The End of an Era: The Ten Year Anniversary of the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Donation
by Kathleen M. Miller

Ten years ago, Laurance S. Rockefeller officially announced his intention of dedicating 1,106 acres of his family’s long-time vacation home, the JY Ranch, to Grand Teton National Park. The purpose of the donation was to develop a nature preserve with a mission “to inspire appreciation and reverence for the beauty and diversity of the natural world, to demonstrate the importance of protecting the land while providing public access, and to foster individual responsibility for conservation stewardship.”

This would be the last of several land transfers, totaling approximately 33,000 acres, to Grand Teton from the Rockefeller family, under the family-funded organization the Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc. As Laurance Rockefeller’s final contribution to the park before his death in 2004, the donation would mark the end of an era initiated by his father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who endured battles with private and public groups beginning in 1927 to preserve both the natural and cultural landscape of the area, before transferring the Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc., into Laurance’s hands in 1945.

Upon acquiring responsibility of the Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc., one of Laurance Rockefeller’s first projects was the purchase and 1949 restoration of Menor’s Ferry, an 1890 homestead site and early ferry operation located along the Snake River. The plan was undertaken by Harold and Josephine Fabian before the Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc. donated the property to the National Park Service in 1953. Due to Rockefeller’s efforts, the property is now recognized as a nationally significant historic district.

Laurance continued his legacy within cultural landscape preservation as he developed a plan for the Laurance S. Rockefeller (LSR) Preserve, which would reclaim the natural landscape features of the former Rockefeller retreat.  Completed in 2007, the LSR Preserve required a design and construction team, consisting of Carney Architects, ME Engineers, David Nelson & Associates, GE Johnson, Hershberger Design, Jorgenson Associates, Pioneer Environmental Services, D.R. Horne & Company, Rocky Mountain Institute, and Engineering Economics, under project manager Clay James.

Before conveying the property to the National Park Service, Laurance Rockefeller funded more than $20 million for the construction of a LEED-Platinum visitor center, and the reclamation of natural features and systems, by removing thirty historic buildings, three miles of roads, utilities, and several trails associated with the JY Ranch. Approximately one-half of the buildings and structures associated with the JY Ranch were transported to a private property owned by the Rockefeller family, while the rest were accepted by Grand Teton National Park and disbursed throughout several districts for housing.

Reclamation of the natural landscape concentrated on trail intersections, roadways, power line routes, meadow, a residential cabin area, and an ancillary facility area, and included the removal of non-native vegetation, transplanting trees of varying ages from surrounding areas, and scattering native tree seedlings, wood debris, mulch, pine, bark, and boulders to resemble a natural setting. Those areas in direct view of visitors received a higher concentration of reclamation activity than those less likely to be seen by the public (Figure 1). As of 2011, it is anticipated that the areas with less reclamation activity will take approximately 55 to 95 years to recover, while those areas with the most recovery activity will take about 15 years to return to a seemingly undisturbed site. So far, this reclamation has successfully improved both a wildlife habitat and formerly fragmented wetlands.

Miller Figure 1
Figure 1. The design and construction team planted vegetation such as lupine to create infill in those highly visited areas requiring more reclamation activity. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

For educational purposes, the site required an interpretation center, public rest rooms, parking, and walkways, which were concentrated in the southeastern corner of the preserve. To comply with the original vision for the property, the project design and construction team took a sustainable approach to the new construction and landscape design.

Carney Architects designed the LSR Preserve Center, the first LEED-platinum building in the National Park Service and in the state of Wyoming. The building utilized salvaged material from other buildings, used Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood products, and employed regionally manufactured materials for construction, while encouraging improved indoor air quality and reduced energy use with the installation of window glass insulation.  The structure also included a state-of-the-art heating system through a series of 250-foot geothermal wells that transfer the temperature of the ground into the building (Figure 2).

Miller Figure 2
Figure 2. The Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center is the first LEED-Platinum building in the National Park Service and the state of Wyoming. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The team also designed composting toilets outfitted with Clivus Multrum technology that eliminates the need for sewage disposal systems.  Additionally, photovoltaic cells were installed on each roof to generate electricity.

For the walkways and parking lot, permeable pavement was used.  Both walkways and parking lot drain into a bioswale, which naturally filters and cleans oils and solvents from water before releasing it into the Snake River.  The parking lot was constructed with only 50 parking spaces, two of which are reserved for energy efficient vehicles, to control the number of visitors to the site, thus complying with Laurance’s belief that reducing human-generated sounds would further enhance the visitor experience in the nature preserve.  Further sustainable practices were used as the asphalt from the original JY Ranch roads was reused for the base material of the entrance road.

In keeping with Laurance Rockefeller’s vision for the preserve, the National Park Service agreed to a conservation easement, restricting the park from establishing any opportunities for sales; a long-term maintenance plan; and the approval by the Rockefeller family representative, Rockefeller Associates, for all major maintenance actions and alterations.  The maintenance plan enforces a two-mile parking restriction along the entrance road leading to the parking area and stations park rangers in the parking lot in order to control the number of visitors to the site. In addition, Grand Teton National Park maintains a strict reclamation plan, which involves the removal of non-native vegetation, monitoring the health of existing native vegetation, and the preservation of the wetland area to screen views of the parking lot and drop-off areas.

Through funding the reclamation of the preserve and making subsequent agreements with the National Park Service, Rockefeller ensured the future preservation of the natural landscape and environmentally conscious new construction. Laurance Rockefeller completed his father’s vision for a culturally and naturally significant Grand Teton National Park, beginning with the cultural landscape preservation of Menor’s Ferry and ending with the reclamation of the JY Ranch natural landscape. Learn more about the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve.

Kathleen M. Miller recently earned her M.S. in Historic Preservation from the University of Vermont, and is continuing her second season with the National Park Service Intermountain Regional Office Cultural Landscape Inventory Program in Santa Fe, NM. She is currently based in Grand Teton National Park, in affiliation with the National Council for Preservation Education. She can be reached at:

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