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To prevent private development on state land, Teton County closes in on recreation lease

Residents laud the proposal sending $2.6 million to Wyoming in exchange for keeping land open, shoring up some trails and removing invasive plants.

The Teton Range dominates the western skyline from the school trust parcel on Munger Mountain. The state of Wyoming and Teton County are working on a 35-year recreation lease to ensure the 640-acre parcel stays undeveloped. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

By Mike Koshmrl

JACKSON, Wyo. — Naysayers were nowhere to be found Thursday in the Teton County commissioners’ chambers, where residents showered praise on a plan to lease a 640-acre swath of state land on Munger Mountain to keep it open to the public and undeveloped. 

The occasion was a hearing of the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments, which is formally analyzing a 35-year “recreational lease” proposal that Teton County sent the state agency this spring. 

Accolades followed accolades as one Jackson Hole resident after the next testified. Leslie Peterson, one resident who spoke, thought back to the “hundreds” of conservation matters she’s worked on over many decades living in the area.

Teton County resident Leslie Peterson, a former Democratic Party candidate for Wyoming governor, testifies about the future of the Munger Parcel in a June 2024 Office of State Lands and Investments hearing in Jackson. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

“I’m more proud, I think, of this effort than anything I’ve ever seen in all of these years of ups and downs, of effort, and caring and working for positive things,” Peterson said. “This one’s just up there … It’s really, truly remarkable.” 

Peterson’s pride was precipitated by a chain of events beginning with the Wyoming Legislature. During the body’s 2020 budget session, lawmakers passed one of the many bills that have singled out Teton County, this one directing the Office of State Lands and Investments to solicit development proposals for state trust lands in Teton County, with the goal of maximizing revenue. 

One of the proposals that came in was from the Bozeman-based “glamping” developer Under Canvas, which pitched a plan to erect upwards of 90 seasonal tents on 30 to 40 acres of the Munger Mountain parcel. Neighbors recoiled and formed a group called the Friends of Munger Mountain. They spent years networking and lobbying for a different fate for the tract of state land, which borders the Bridger-Teton National Forest and is mostly undeveloped except for the Fall Creek Road corridor. 

Conservation easements and protected state and federal land scatter the landscape in the vicinity of the Munger Mountain school trust parcel in southern Jackson Hole. (Teton County)

The Jackson Hole Land Trust got involved in 2021, entering into a formal partnership with Teton County Commissioners to devise a solution for the parcel. A breakthrough came during the 2022 election. That fall voters approved a suite of special purpose excise tax ballot itemsamong them an $8 million fund to pay for a lease on Munger Mountain and other conservation-oriented projects. 

Teton County commissioners unanimously OK’d the proposal to lease the land for $75,000 a year this spring, the Jackson Hole News&Guide reported. Now, the Office of State Lands and Investments is considering the deal. The county proposed to pay all 35 years of dues, $2.625 million, in full at the onset of the lease. Figuring a 5.2% return, the deal would then yield Wyoming’s school trust account a total of nearly $15.5 million, according to the proposal. Currently, a grazing lease on the land is returning the state $1,900 annually. 

Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments Deputy Director Jason Crowder, left, listens while his director, Jenifer Scoggin, addresses a crowd in Jackson convened for a June 2024 hearing about a potential conservation lease on 640 acres of state land on Munger Mountain. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

“We’re still analyzing this from a financial standpoint,” Office of State Lands and Investments Director Jenifer Scoggin told attendees of the Jackson hearing. “We’re reviewing the management plans … we’re trying to make sure that the proposal is sustainable and compatible with some of the existing uses that we have.” 

Absent input that changes the proposal significantly, the plan is for the State Board of Land Commissioners to consider the lease at its Aug. 1 meeting, Scoggin said.

Some improvements 

Teton County’s proposal is modeled after Albany County’s Pilot Hill Project, which included a recreational lease of state land near Laramie. 

The Munger Mountain proposal includes no wholesale changes to the state land as it’s used today, though it does call for improving existing trails. A nearby network of trails on the Bridger-Teton National Forest receives between 150 and 400 users per day in the summer and fall, trail counters have found.

A trail plan included in the county’s proposal calls for integrating Munger Mountain’s existing 20 miles of national forest trails with the state land trails, which are used comparatively less. In partnership with a local non-profit group, Friends of Pathways, the county would build or rehabilitate 10 miles of trails, add a handful of bridges and add new parking to the parcel.

Some vegetation work is also being proposed, but that’s about the extent of the physical changes to the land. 

“We would invest heavily in weed control to knock back the invasive weeds that are present out there,” Jackson Hole Land Trust President Max Ludington said at the hearing. “Then in conjunction, in consultation with Snake River Ranch, [we would] try to do some habitat restoration for the benefit of that elk herd.” 

Everybody who spoke at the Office of State Lands and Investments hearing was supportive of the county’s proposal, including those elected to represent local interests in Cheyenne. 

“You probably have unanimous support from the Teton delegation,” Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) said. “We’re all for this, and we’re here to show that support … I’ll probably go to the Aug. 1 meeting in Cheyenne, too, to lend support and see that we get this through.” 

Written comments should be emailed to slfmail@wyo.gov. They’re due by 5 p.m. on June 28. Teton County’s proposal is available for review below. 

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.