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Natural Resources & Energy

Park County Reconsiders Public Land Parcel Seized From Fugitive

Credit By Paul Rau and the Bureau of Land Management via CC BY 2.0

About 20 years ago, Wyoming acquired a ranch north of Cody that had briefly been the home of a wanted drug smuggler. Now, there’s debate in Park County about what to do with the property.

The Park County Sheriff and another local complained to the County Commissioners that the Beartooth Ranch near the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone River is an eyesore, full of decrepit buildings and weeds. So, the commissioners decided to write a letter to Governor Matt Mead requesting the right to sell the property.

Their hope was to earn tax dollars for the county and let someone else manage it. But hunters and fishermen treasure that area, and when word spread about the letter, some called it a land grab. Outfitter Tim Wade is part of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited, which contacted the governor’s office objecting to the idea.

“We use that Clark Fork regularly for float trips and for walk-wade trips and I can tell you if we can’t keep that little mile and a half stretch, that 657 acres open to the public, then there’s no way to access the Clark Fork in its entirety,” Wade said.

Much of this debate is legally moot because the state is not allowed to sell or transfer this land. The federal government gave the ranch to Wyoming after seizing it from a drug smuggler. That agreement requires the state to keep the property open to the public.

Commissioner Jake Fulkerson said the county officials had no intentions of blocking river access, and he hadn’t realized a sale would block off an area where people like to hunt.

“Since then, I’ve changed my mind, I’ve learned a lot. So now, what I’d like to do is have the state manage it,” Wade said. “Leave it the way it is, just have the state get active. You know, irrigate that, have a farmer irrigate those 80 acres, clean it up, and leave it in the hands of the sportsmen.”

The commissioners will discuss the issue with the local chapter of the recreation group Trout Unlimited on February 20.

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