The US Forest Service now owns what was once a large private inholding in the Big Hole Mountains west of Driggs.
The 960-acre property accessed from the end of Old Horseshoe Road was once owned by Marquita Maytag, the heiress to the Maytag fortune and a colorful local character. After her death the Beartooth Group purchased the property and logged it, demolished a large unsafe structure on the property, and cleaned up some of the abandoned mining operations of Sam, the former coal town up Horseshoe Canyon. The property was then put it up for sale as the Teton Timbers Ranch in 2017 by listing brokers Ken Dunn of Sage Realty and Trent Jones of Hall and Hall. The advertised price of the land, which consists of Teton views, rolling hillsides, groves of pine trees and aspens, and grassy meadows, was over $4 million.
It has been a Forest Service priority for protection for several years. The property is part of the Teton River watershed and includes the tributaries Pack Saddle, Porcupine, Irene, Brown Bear, and Hillman Creeks. The land is valuable habitat for lynx, wolverines, and bears. As an island of private land surrounded by public land, the parcel has created navigational issues for outdoor enthusiasts. The land purchase eliminates subdivision threats and reduces wildland-urban interface fire concerns.
In 2018 the Teton County Board of Commissioners signed a letter in support of the public agency purchasing the 960-acre property. The commissioners signed another letter of support just this week, during their meeting on Sept. 28.
“This land purchase would provide multiple public benefits including, but not limited to, hunting, fishing, day-hiking, and additional winter recreation opportunities,” the 2020 letter reads.
The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit that helps facilitate conservation land acquisitions, bought the land in April of this year with help from the Teton Regional Land Trust, but the listing brokers and representatives of the Forest Service and Conservation Fund were reluctant to disclose who the final owner might be until the Forest Service purchase closed last Friday, Sept. 25. Some of that reticence was due to concerns about funding, but thanks to the Great American Outdoor Act that was enacted last month, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (not to be confused with the nonprofit Conservation Fund) is permanently and fully funded, making the Maytag purchase possible.
“Engaging with the local community and ensuring their needs were met, was critical to the success of this project,” said Congressman Mike Simpson in a press release about the sale. “I applaud the US Forest Service and all the partners involved, for working diligently to accomplish this great project. When the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law last month, I said this bill is for future generations. The Maytag-Teton Timbers property will achieve this goal by opening up public access for Idahoans for centuries to come.”
In 2018 the Conservation Fund managed a similar transaction when the organization purchased the Teton River Confluence Ranch in Felt and then transferred the 760-acre property to the Bureau of Land Management.
“Partnerships and collaboration go a long way in making these important conservation projects viable,” said Mark Elsbree, the senior vice president at the Conservation Fund. “Securing the Maytag property for a community that highly values its public lands for wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities will have a lasting positive impact.”
This leaves around 120 acres of private property at the end of Old Horseshoe Road; however, the Rancho Horiquilla Del Sur property is already in a conservation easement with the TRLT, which greatly limits its development potential.