On an overcast morning, the former owners walked through the gate of what was their home for 20 years.
"Today's our first trip back to this place," said Iola Blake. "And you look at those mountains and they're ingrained in your heart."
Iola and her husband Hal sold this last acre of private property on Mormon Row in Grand Teton National Park almost two years ago. Mormon Row is remembered for being a prime homesteading location back in the 1800s.
When you google images of Grand Teton National Park, one of the first pictures that pops up is the T.A. Moulton Barn with the Teton range in the background. Until almost two years ago, Hal, the great grandson of T.A. Moulton, still held the last private acre of Mormon Row right next door. Now the Moulton Ranch Cabins have officially been transferred to the park.
They're joined by their 13-year old grandson while walking through their property.
"It's kind of emotional for us really because I look at my grandson Easton...here," Hal said holding in tears. "And, you know, it was hard for us to make the decision to sell because we had so much of an identity here."
That identity is two-fold. It includes the history of the place given Hal's family owned it. T.A. Moulton was one of the first settlers to the area in the late 1800s. T.A. gave Hal's grandfather, Clark, this acre of land as a marriage gift.
"He held on to this acre and scratched out living out here, ranching and farming," said Hal.
The second part of the identity: creating memories of childhood and family.
"I just remember things with, you know, the day for instance, that the gate was left open and a couple of big bison wandered into the yard," recalled Hal. "And I have this memory of Clark Moulton and he's older in his old age, you know, with his cane going over, 'You guys get out of here.'"
It was also mundane memories like the kids mowing the lawn.
"This grass back here, they mowed by hand, and they would do about a fourth and then another one would come in and the other one would go do a fourth and that would take them all day to mow this grass by hand," laughed Iola.
For 20 years, the Blake's owned the property and operated it as a Bed and Breakfast hosting guests that would occasionally become lifelong friends. It was a lot of work, and as they got older the couple decided it might be time to move on. They sat down and wrote the pros and cons of potentially selling the place.
"The timing was right. You know it just felt right at the time," said Hal. "And using estate planning was probably the biggest reason."
Hal said it was always on his mind to try to get the park to buy the property while knowing that it could potentially be bought by a developer. So, he called up a realtor whose family had also homesteaded the area.
He asked the realtor, "'What do you think the chances are that the park would buy this?'And, his recommendation was, 'Well, we'll have to get their attention by just listing it'," recalled Hal.
They did get a lot of attention. Leslie Mattson, CEO of the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, said when she saw the listing she realized the importance of acquiring the last private acre on Mormon Row but she was not sure how to do it since the foundation had just finished a year and half of intense fundraising.
"The idea of doing another campaign, so to speak, was something that we weren't sure we were going to be able to do," said Mattson.
Thankfully, an anonymous person stepped up and offered to donate the money to the foundation to buy the property.
"She's a person who loves the park, and also really cares deeply about cultural resources," said Mattson. "But really, she was totally motivated by the fact that this property was going to ultimately be seasonal workforce housing."
The park is in dire need of such housing; after about a year and half of renovation, the foundation handed over the property to the park. Mattson said the timing was especially good during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The fact that this was coming online when all of their restrictions were changing in terms of how many people could be in one room and kitchen and bathroom use and all that stuff," said Mattson. "I mean, really the timing is really incredible."
The park is currently housing five employees at the Moulton Ranch Cabins this summer.
The Blake's are happy that the property is helping the park out and they are enjoying a new residence in Island Park, Idaho where grandson Easton Blake said he's excited to make new memories.
"I'm also excited to be able to spend more time with my grandparents and to be able to help build up a new, special place where we can get my siblings and some of my younger cousins to have fond memories of playing Island Park down at the lake and everything like that," said Easton.