By Max Miller
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CODY — Competing hopes for the future of the Beartooth Ranch in Clark have once again generated tensions in the Park County Commissioners’ room.
Fishing hole and picnic ground or working ranch and part of the county property tax base – community members have different ideas about what purpose the property should serve.
An advisory committee, formed by the commissioners in April to brainstorm ideas for the ranch, is not going in the direction Lloyd Thiel initially envisioned.
Thiel, a Clark resident, ranch committee member and Park County commissioner candidate, was one of the first people to bring the dilapidated former home of a cocaine-smuggler to public attention in December 2017.
But since bringing his concerns to the commission room, Thiel told the commissioners Aug. 7, the conversation around the 657-acre property has not gone as he had hoped.
Thiel said when he asked the commissioners to discuss the ranch in the winter, his aim was to get property restrictions put in place by the federal government lifted.
After being seized from convicted cocaine-smuggler Allen Bost in the late 1990s, the Beartooth Ranch was turned over to state control under the terms of a memorandum of understanding that stipulated the property could not be leased or sold.
Thiel wanted to see the property leased out to a rancher or other private owner, returning it to what he sees as its agricultural roots.
Commissioner Joe Tilden suggested Thiel’s ultimate goal of getting a rider releasing the land from the MOU attached to a bill moving through the U.S. Congress may be far-fetched.
In multiple conversations with Office of State lands assistant director Jason Crowder, Tilden said, “It was apparent the state had no desire to change the MOU [to allow for lease] whatsoever.”
After Crowder told him that, “As far as I was concerned [MOU-revision] was sort of off the table,” Tilden said.
Thiel said that should be the committee’s goal, however.
“Everybody on the committee except me thinks it should be like a national park and all left public land,” Thiel said. “I am the only person there who feels this land should not be used as a money pit.”
Added Thiel, “I think this committee has created a monster that’s going to just cost the county and the rest of the state.”
Thiel said he was worried about the committee since it was formed in April. “I stood up and asked if it was a very diverse group,” he said. “It obviously was not.”
On Aug. 7 no one on the committee besides Thiel was present to respond to the candidate’s criticism.
Members of Trout Unlimited and Pheasants Forever are on the committee and were drawn into the conversation after commissioner Tim French in December suggested selling the property, which has become a popular destination for anglers.
Comparing the acreage to a seized Lamborghini, French reiterated that desire Aug. 7, saying “[the government] should have turned right around and sold it.”
Thiel said he had been on vacation in Alaska during the committee’s last meeting, and when he got back home and checked his email he was surprised at actions the group had taken in his absence.
Those involved initiating discussions with several government agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming Office of State Lands and Wyoming Game and Fish Department, he said.
Thiel said he thought the group had deviated from its initial charge and “turned into a caretaker group and a self-proclaimed board.” He suggested the body was working behind the commissioners’ backs and exceeding their authority.
And he said he worried “the next step is [the committee] will be wanting funding from the county.”
Tilden, the liaison to the committee, said he had stressed to the members, “Any arrangements you make with the State Lands people, you need to run it by the commissioners first, to make sure we approve it.”
The committee and the commissioners “as a collective group, will go to the state,” Tilden said.
Up for re-election in the crowded Republican primary for the commission, Tilden defended the committee’s work, saying “they’re gung-ho. They like it, they like public access.”
He and commissioner Jake Fulkerson said they would likely not support a revision of the MOU even if it were a possibility.
French and commission chair Loren Grosskopf appeared more open to that future option. “The state has done nothing and let it be abused for 20 years,” French said.
Tilden praised the committee’s recent efforts to repair fence line, and added that chair Len Fortunato is researching grant options to “help irrigate and plant some food plots.”
Replacing cattle guards is another short-term necessity, he said, and picnic tables are another goal that’s been discussed.
Where the rubber hits the road is funding.
“If this group does not continue to keep the ball moving in the right direction and try to come up with some money, then [the ranch] will continue to hang in limbo, the way it is today,” Tilden said Crowder had told him.
“What’s the goal, what’s the macro-plan?” Fulkerson wanted to know. “Where [does the committee] see this in 10 years?”
Replied Tilden, “They do not have [a macro-plan] yet.”