On this day in history, in one of his final acts as president, Calvin Coolidge dedicates acreage in the Grand Teton mountain range as a national park.
A Vermont native, Coolidge appreciated the outdoors and, like many Americans, enjoyed the romance of the American Wild West. He was an experienced rider and had an electric bucking horse installed in the White House as a form of exercise. Coolidge’s term coincided with the growth in popularity of dude ranches, particularly in Wyoming and Montana. Coolidge enjoyed them so much that the normally staid and unexpressive president even allowed photographers to photograph him in Indian headdress or cowboy attire.
In the 1920s, cattle ranching and homesteading in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton regions hit an economic slowdown. While some families persisted in farming and ranching, others opened their lands to hunting, fishing and dude ranching as a way to supplement their income. In 1925, residents of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, near the Tetons circulated a petition supporting the establishment of a park, declaring “we have tried ranching, stock-raising, and from our experience have become of the firm belief that this region will find its highest use as a playground.”
The petitioners found a receptive audience in President Coolidge, who was an avid proponent of limiting commercial development in the West’s most spectacular natural areas. In 1925, Coolidge signed Executive Order 4631, which marked off several hundred acres in the area for the preservation of the region’s elk population. Two years later, Coolidge closed an additional 23,000 acres in the Tetons to homesteaders under Executive Order 4685. Coolidge’s actions angered many, including farmers and ranchers who protested governmental control of how they could use land that was once considered their private property. In addition, Forest Service officials argued that Coolidge’s orders limited the agency’s control over regional forestry practices. But, with the help of a growing contingent of Americans from many walks of life who supported preservation of America’s natural wonders, including industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Coolidge persuaded Congress to approve the park.
The original boundaries of the Grand Teton National Park included just the Teton mountain range and several lakes. Total acreage of the park increased under Franklin Roosevelt in 1943 and again by an act of Congress in 1950. Today, the park consists of more than 300,000 acres.