The Achievement of the JY Ranch {The Achievement of the JY Ranch} – English

The Achievement of the JY Ranch {The Achievement of the JY Ranch} – English

Quietly tucked at the base of the Grand Tetons, where the sharp foothills crescendo and fall into Phelps Lake and rise again to the mouth of Death Canyon, lie the last vestiges of Jackson Hole’s earliest dude ranch. Now more than a decade removed, the remnants of the lodges and cabins and boat houses that once dotted this remote expanse of wilderness have all but been erased by the cadence of the seasons, virtually imperceptible save perhaps to those who spent summers working or visiting the once bustling JY Ranch. 

It’s no mistake that the only traces of this storied homestead—which at one time hosted heads of state and society’s elite—are now only a few clearings in the otherwise dense forest. No Act of God or stroke of misfortune spelled its undoing, as became many of the valley’s first horse and cattle operations. This return to nature is, in fact, a design generations in the making and the result of the largest conservation effort in the region, dating back to the early 20th Century.

To fully appreciate the achievement of this rugged, sprawling space requires stepping back in time to the pioneer days of Jackson Hole. It is a story of intrigue, of vision and foresight, and one that underscores the natural grandeur of this remarkable destination and the passions that keep it alive.

The Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve was established in 2007 when the historic JY Ranch was dedicated into Grand Teton National Park. The transfer marked the culmination of the Rockefeller family’s multi-generational commitment to preserving the natural beauty of one of the world’s most iconic destinations. Photo: Nic Lehoux

The Tribulation of Pioneers

In 1903, David Spalding, an outdoorsman and aspiring rancher, founded a modest homestead at the foot of the Teton Mountains. The first settlers had begun to arrive to Jackson Hole in the mid-1880s, most attracted by the area’s natural beauty and the burgeoning cattle trade across the West. But the valley remained largely isolated. Fur traders had frequented the region for decades, compelled by its diversity of wild game. But short growing seasons and rocky soil made it difficult for ranchers to raise hay and crops to support their livestock during the harsh winters.

Spalding, to his misfortune, had landed on one of the most challenging plots of land, despite its stunning beauty. The surrounding mountains caught eastward-moving storm formations, and, elevated above the valley floor, the location accumulated some of the area’s great snowfall. The rocky alpine terrain made cultivating pastures difficult, as did the old-growth pine and cottonwood forests that had to be cleared to give way to grazing.

After only three years of making a go at ranching the property, Spalding turned over the land to Louis Joy and his Princeton-educated business partner, Maxwell Struthers Burt. Both hailing from the East Coast, Joy and Burt saw a different opportunity in the property. At this point, word of Jackson Hole and the Greater Yellowstone region’s natural grandeur had begun to spread. Dude ranches, which offered guests a chance to participate in Western life along with fishing, hunting and pack-tripping, had begun to crop up across the Mountain West, though not yet in Jackson Hole.

Louis Joy established the JY Ranch as Jackson Hole’s first dude operation with business partner Struthers Burt.

The Spalding homestead, Joy and Burt conspired, was a chance to tap into this emerging industry and the still largely undiscovered beauty of the region. By all accounts, the ranch provided an ideal setting for a dude outfit: Its proximity to the Teton range allowed access into near endless backcountry for trail rides, pack-trips and hunting. The adjacent Phelps Lake and iconic Snake River to the east offered remarkable trout fishing and boating. And by running cattle during the summer months, the establishment could still offer the experience of traditional ranching activities.

In 1907, Joy and Burt opened the gates of the JY Ranch (the brand was an abbreviation of Joy’s name). Almost immediately, the business took off. Buoyed by Joy’s knowledge of ranching and Burt’s wealthy connections in the East, the JY began welcoming visitors. In its first year the ranch hosted five guests, all acquaintances of Burt, but as word of the operation spread so too did its popularity.

Over the next several years relations between Joy and Burt began to sour. Joy had promised his partner a five-year option to buy half-interest in the business, but it soon became apparent those plans were not likely to come to fruition. Frustrated, Burt severed ties with Joy in 1911 with the intention of starting his own dude ranch in the valley, which he did.

Bolstered by growing visitation to nearby Yellowstone National Park, which was established by Congress and ratified by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, the reputation of the JY Ranch continued to spread. Keeping up with the growing operations proved to be a formidable task, even for a veteran rancher like Joy. In 1916, Joy began leasing his outfit to Henry S.A. Stewart, a businessman from Pittsburg.

Under Stewart’s direction, the operation grew further. In 1920, he purchased the property from Joy and incorporated it into his adjoining land holdings, which he contracted out to raise cattle. Soon the JY Ranch was consistently operating at capacity—65 guests a stay, which was a substantially larger number than the 10 to 20 visitors most dude ranches could accommodate. The weekly $65 rate included meals, lodging, boats and saddle horses.

Stewart proved a shrewd entrepreneur. He offered guests comforts that were unusual to the area: fresh vegetables, dairy products and beef, all locally sourced. (Despite the area’s impressive cattle herds, most ranching families subsisted on elk and deer rather than dipping into their profit-makers.) Stewart launched motor tours of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and began a general store that sold fishing licenses, camping supplies, tobacco, candy and medicine. Those conveniences soon established the JY as the area’s largest and most successful dude ranch—strong enough even to weather the Great Depression.

When the stock market collapsed in 1929, Stewart raised his rates and lowered capacity—a move that defied convention. Most dude ranches at the time were cutting costs in hopes of attracting visitors that could still afford travel. Stewart’s plan succeeded in appealing to a high-worth clientele and helped keep the business afloat through the blunt of the Depression. Even so, the economic turmoil was taking a toll and the signs of change were astir.

Controversy in Conservation

By the mid-1920s, the West had captivated the imagination of the nation. Popularized in literature and film and suddenly accessible by railroad, this once obscure frontier nearly instantaneously became the premier destination for the modern traveler. Ads appeared newspapers and magazines on both coasts, and few locations offered such natural beauty and adventure as Wyoming.

It was around this time that Yellowstone Superintendent Horace Albright invited John D. Rockefeller Jr., son of the Standard Oil founder and one of the country’s wealthiest men, to tour the Grand Teton area. Albright’s invitation was purposeful and well-calculated. Concerned by the commercialization creeping into the region, he had been working with likeminded landowners on a plan to preserve the area’s vast natural resources. The idea hinged on persuading a conservation investor to purchase surrounding land and donate it to the government to be incorporated into the parks.  As it turned out, Albright’s offer would shape the future of the region and Grand Teton National Park.

In 1926, Albright personally escorted Rockefeller around the valley and provided maps of landownership. At his behest, Rockefeller formed the Snake River Land Company, which began to surreptitiously buy up ranches, often using local agents to conceal the buyer’s identity. Many sellers thought the acquisitions were part of a plan to expand the National Elk Refuge, which had been established in 1912 to support wildlife populations.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife Abby tour Jackson Lake in the mid-1920s.

In 1930, locals caught wind of the plan, which divided landowners. Many supported the plan to conserve the area’s rugged beauty. Others saw it as a landgrab hatched by the federal government and wealthy East Coast socialites.

Senator Robert Carey, a Wyoming Republican, told Rockefeller’s lawyer, “We are not willing to see this section of Wyoming exploited or its citizens driven out to gratify Mr. Albright’s ambition or to establish a monopoly for the benefit of Mr. Rockefeller’s agents.”

Despite opposition, which included the launch of a weekly newspaper, the Grand Teton, to rail against the expansion, the Snake River Land Co. was successful. It ultimately purchased 33,000 acres at a cost of $1.5 million—the equivalent of about $21 million today. Among the properties purchased was the JY Ranch, which Stewart sold in 1932 for $90,000.

Initially, Rockefeller’s plan to donate his company’s impressive land acquisitions to the government was thwarted by Wyoming’s congressional delegation. In 1942, he wrote Interior Secretary Harold Ickes with a threat to sell his holdings if the federal government didn’t act. That caught the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in 1943 used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create the Jackson Hole National Monument.

That, too, drew blowback. In 1943, local ranchers moved a herd of more than 500 cattle across the newly established monument, an act meant to defy the National Park Service. Shortly after, Congress passed a law to abolish the monument, which was vetoed by President Roosevelt. The State of Wyoming filed a motion to challenge the Antiquities Act, but it too was dismissed.

Finally, in 1950, a compromise was struck that exempted Wyoming from the Antiquities Act—ensuring a national monument could only be created in the state with Congressional approval—in return for Grand Teton National Park being expanded to incorporate the Jackson Hole National Monument. The agreement was authorized by President Harry Truman that year.

In 1949, when Rockefeller donated the land purchased through the Snake River Land Co. to the National Park, he withheld roughly 3,400 acres structured around the original JY Ranch. Adopting the JY brand, the private inholding—one of only a few within Grand Teton National Park—became something of a crown jewel for Rockefeller and his family, which would use the property as a private retreat for more than 70 years.

A Legacy as Big as the Mountains

Accessible only by a narrow gravel road and bordered by an unassuming buckrail fend, the Rockefeller’s JY Ranch lived as something of a mystery to the public. Few passed through its impressive but discrete gates, which might be missed by the unaware passerby. Yet, for nearly a quarter-century, this Camelot welcomed distinguished visitors and dignitaries, all by invitation of the Rockefeller family.

Perched atop the rim of Phelps Lake, a glacial lake formed at the base of the Tetons, the ranch painted an impressive sight: A mess hall overlooking the lake, lodges and guest cabins, horse stables and corrals, a private fishing pond, swimming pool, roping arena, boat house and miles of wilderness.

Over the years this remote retreat hosted a laundry list of eminent guests, including President and First Lady Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1995. But for the Rockefellers, an invitation to the ranch wasn’t so much a status symbol as a means to share Jackson Hole’s natural wonder.

“The JY Ranch was an august place, and the Rockefellers went to great lengths to maintain the land,” one former manager explained. “Every aspect of the ranch was meant to complement the local environment. It was obvious the family cared deeply about preserving the heritage and serenity of Jackson Hole.”

Indeed, the passion for the area’s rugged beauty seemed to have been passed down from Rockefeller to his sons, Laurance and David, who continued to run the ranch after his death. Between 1969 and 1983, Laurance transferred approximately 2,300 acres of the JY Ranch into Grand Teton National Park. In 2001, then 91 years old, Laurance announced he would donate the remaining 1,106 acres to the National Park. The transfer was completed in 2007, which put the final private Rockefeller ownership of the ranch into public land.

The boathouse at the JY Ranch before the buildings were dismantled and the property dedicated to Grand Teton National Park. The estate served as a retreat for the Rockefeller family for nearly 70 years.

Today, the more than 1,100 acres of the JY Ranch are enshrined in the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, a popular destination within Grand Teton National Park. The ranch structures have been relocated, many into Park service. At the time of the transfer, Rockefeller explained that he hoped the project would offer a model for public-private partnerships to preserve the country’s open spaces.

Perhaps no other property better embodies the long history and dynamism of Jackson Hole than the JY Ranch. The valley’s culture and heritage seem to permeate the very soil. Now enshrined for generations to come, it would be hard to think of a more fitting coda to the property’s storied legacy than its return to public ownership.

About 97% of the land in Teton County is protected in public lands, thanks largely to conservation efforts of the Rockefeller family.

The Eight-Second Economy {The Eight-Second Economy} – English

The Rodeo Economy

Take a drive around any given small town in rural American on any given summer night, and there is a good chance of finding a throng of trucks and trailers, cowboys and cowgirls, livestock and rough stock, parked around the metal fences of a dirt arena. At once gritty and pastoral, it’s a scene iconic to the American West—Rodeo. And from the proverbial one-horse town to the country’s biggest cities, its popularity is burgeoning.

In many ways, rodeo’s success itself bucks convention. As many remote communities – the kind of places where cell coverage is still spotty and population signs read like they are missing a digit – struggle against population declines and economic stagnation, the sport born from their traditions and fast-disappearing lifestyles is now riding high.  

Nationwide, there are more than 600 rodeos sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). Countless more are operated independently. Bull riding, one of rodeo’s marquee competitions, is the fastest growing sport in the United States.

They say true cowboys are a dying breed, but not judging by their sport. From association memberships to airtime, most metrics point towards growth, especially at the professional level.

The rising number of competitors owes to a myriad of factors, like high school and even peewee rodeo programs that introduce the sport at a younger age and a stable economy (pro rodeo participation fell to near-record lows in 2009). But it’s also fed by the sport’s mounting celebrity. Rodeo has become a staple on many television networks, and audiences, in person and by broadcast, have steadily grown—as have the jackpots. Prize money hit an all-time high of more than $46 million in 2015.  

There’s a strong case that rodeo’s entry into the mainstream is a result of the very suburbanization that has put mounting pressure on the communities typically associated with the sport. Over three-quarters of the U.S. population today lives in an urban location. In 2010, there were more than 41 metros areas with populations above 1 million people, up from 12 in 1950 and projected to grow to 53 by 2030. With limited access to ranching and agriculture, the spectacle of rodeo is even more pronounced within those demographics, which has helped to drive ratings.

But perhaps the more convincing case for rodeo’s sudden surge in popularity is less nuanced. The sport is a celebration of the heritage and lifestyles on which much of the country was built. Competitors and spectators stand and doff their hats for the National Anthem. They put a hand over their hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance. And they take a moment of silence for those who gave their life in service to our country.

And then there’s the sheer thrill of the sport. The teamwork between horse and rider for the timed events, the contest between animal and athlete for the judged events, and, of course, the unpredictability of the livestock throughout—there are few competitions that require such measures of athleticism and daring, and both in spades.

“People identify with what the cowboy represents,” Troy Ellerman, a former commissioner of the PRCA, said in a 2006 interview. “We are a slice of America that’s carved out an identity for itself and is becoming more and more popular. And a 2,500-pound animal against a 150-pound guy? It’s pretty good to watch.”

That’s proven prescient. Rodeo’s growing stature has created a booming industry. The Houston Rodeo, one of the largest in the country, generated some $391 in economic activity this year from ticket and on-site sales, lodging, food and auxiliary purchases. That spending created nearly 4,000 jobs in the area, according to research by Economics Analytics Consulting, LLC.  

The National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, often called the Super Bowl of rodeo, generated $113 million in spending over 10 days last December, according to conservative estimates. Wyoming’s Cheyenne Frontier Days, “The Daddy of ‘Em All,” created over $27 million in economic activity last year, and the annual Reno Rodeo pulled nearly $60 million into the local economy. Such has become a reality of the industry. Big ticket events equate to big money.

For elite competitors, rodeo can be a lucrative living, too, although still modest compared to most major sports. The purse for the National Finals Rodeo this year will top $10 million, or about a $50,000 payout for event winners. PRCA champions generally earn between $200,000 to $500,000 per year, according to the organization’s data. Coupled with often large endorsement packages, top athletes’ earning potential is not insignificant.

In 2016, five-time World Title Champion bull rider Sage Kimzey became PRCA’s youngest millionaire, then only 22 years old. Even so, his combined career earnings of less than $2 million pale in comparison to the multi-million dollar deals regularly inked by professional athletes in better known fields.

Like most sports, it’s not easy to break into the upper echelons of rodeo. Nor is it often a glamorous life. An amateur competitor might collect $10,000 to $15,000 per year, the equivalent of a part time job, the Cowboy Lifestyle Network reported in 2017. But for most aspiring cowboys and cowgirls, there’s nothing part time about the gig.

Competitors travel frequently, often driving long distances from one event to the next. It’s not uncommon for athletes to participate in multiple rodeos in a single day, with no guarantee of a payout when the dust settles. It’s a grueling lifestyle, to be sure, and one that participants roundly agree is driven by a passion for the sport rather than monetary gain.

Even for mid-range competitors, a year’s winnings may not cover their costs of travel and caring for their animals. Health insurance, especially among bronc and bull riders, is generally unheard of; the premiums are simply unrealistic in this line of work. An injury or stroke of bad luck can quickly spell one’s undoing.

“Unless you are at the very top, you will not retire from it,” says Jimmy Crosby, a former bull rider.

In this multi-faceted sport, cowboys aren’t the only ones vying for potentially big winnings. So are the animals. A top-performing bull or bronc can earn significant prize money, and a market has emerged for breeders. Like riders, these animals compete for large purses, which can total over a million dollars for a season. In 2012, for example, Bushwhacker, then the top-ranked PBR bull, was valued at just under $1 million.

“Bull riding is a big business,” James Gorman reported in the New York Times earlier this year. “For the past 15 years or so, bucking bulls have been intensively bred like racehorses to make them harder to ride. Breeders use high-tech reproductive techniques and a detailed, computerized registry of 180,000 bulls and cows…For those who do buck, it’s a sweet life.”

The upshot is a sport that’s becoming increasingly challenging. As Gorman puts it, now all the bulls are hard. In 1995, 46 percent of bull riders completed their ride; today, only 26 percent do. Against such odds, it’s little wonder that rodeo has been called the “most dangerous sport.”

It defies logic, to some degree at least, that cowboys and cowgirls would gamble so much on such long-shot odds for what most likely will amount to a modest income and tough living. But an adrenaline high, the admiration of an anticipatory crowd, the struggle to hang on for eight seconds or set the perfect catch loop—those feelings often don’t conform to reason.

Perhaps that explains rodeo’s growing appeal. At its heart, it is a sport of grit and determination, good luck and strong spirits, fueled by the need to test one’s mettle under the lights of a grandstand and the cheers of a crowd.

In that sense, the sport is emblematic of the West itself: steely, resolute and independent—and yet still somehow dynamic and indomitable. Like the West, it is a thing of uncertainty, where the thrill and reward of the experience is worth the wager of it all.

“The tough part about roping for a living is that there are no guarantees,” says team roper Kendra Santos. “There is no paycheck in your mailbox every other Friday. You’re basically gambling on your skills and the luck of the draw.”

“Still, cowboys are true grit. They do not back down,” Santos adds. “This is something we love. It’s a dream. I know I’ve been doing this for 28 years, and I haven’t been able to shake it.”

The Sport of Kings Finds Broader Audiences {The Sport of Kings Finds Broader Audiences} – English

The Sport of Kings Finds Broader Audiences {The Sport of Kings Finds Broader Audiences} – English

As much of the sports world grapples to stay relevant in an age of digitalization, fast-moving media cycles and shifting consumer preferences, a centuries old gentlemen’s game rooted in tradition is quietly, and rapidly, garnering national acclaim. And it is doing so by eschewing many industry trends.

Polo, the “Sport of Kings,” is hardly a newcomer to the global stage. It was a featured competition in five Olympic Games (1900, ’08, ’20, ’24 and ’36), and the oldest club, the Calcutta Polo Club, dates back to 1862. Artifacts suggest rudimentary versions of the game were played as early as 200 BC—though, by all accounts the modern form originated in India in the mid-19th Century.

The sport’s notoriety spread quickly throughout the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, particularly among Europe’s nobility and upper social classes. It was introduced stateside by James Gordon Bennett, a New York publisher, who hosted the first game in the United States in 1876 after seeing a match during a visit to England a year earlier.   

Yet, for more than a century, polo remained largely out of the mainstream in the U.S., receiving far less fanfare than other equestrian sports like horse racing and rodeo. Its niche positioning owed in part to the rigor of the game and significant costs, which made it largely inaccessible to much of the public.

To be sure, the nature of the game has not changed much. A physically demanding sport, both on horse and rider, polo requires competitors to be in peak condition. It’s not uncommon for a well-trained polo horse to cost as much as $200,000. Considering that riders often change mounts at each of six chukkers, or periods of play in a match, to keep their horses fresh—it’s easy to see how the cost of competitive polo can quickly escalate.

Even today, polo is not on the same plane as most major sports leagues, which is due chiefly, still, to the high bar to entry. Yet, the sport’s allure owes in no small part to that very exclusivity. Traditions remain central to the game—think ceremonial sabrages, champagne toasts and high fashion—which lend an air of sophistication that has drawn crowds hungry for an elevated experience.

In many respects, polo as a sport has shrugged off industry conventions. Rather than marketing to mass audiences, leagues have catered instead to smaller, discerning crowds. Experience is tantamount, which is evident in spectators’ own involvement in a match—like stomping the divots to return a field to a proper condition.

At the same time, the game is expanding its accessibility here in the States. Today, there are nearly 300 polo clubs in the U.S.—the most of any of the 90 countries around the world where the sport is played. Across the country, many clubs have launched programs that invite new players to experience the game without the hefty costs historically associated with the sport.

The result has been a steady growth in the sport. While it’s difficult to track national stats, many leagues report an uptick in participation and public engagement. At the International Polo Club in Palm Beach, Florida, for example, local box office revenue increased 185 percent between 2012 and 2015, including a 133 percent year-over-year gain in 2014, Forbes reports.

It may shock some, too, to know that women are polo’s fastest growing demographic. Female players made up a record 40 percent of membership in the U.S. Polo Association last year, and the number of women’s tournaments has steadily increased over the past five years.

In Sheridan, Wyoming, at the base of the Big Horn Mountains, polo is a staple of the community. Indeed, some of the country’s first matches were played here after English royalty, and with them thoroughbred horses, settled in the area in the late 1800s. Western horsemen began adopting the sport in the early 1900s, when they began selling horses to U.S. Calvary units, used the game as a training exercise.

“In those days, you could get $165 from the Government for a cavalry horse, which wasn’t bad, but you could get $300 for a polo pony,” explains Tommy Wayman, a Big Horn local who, in the 1980s, was the first U.S. player in 30 years to achieve 10-goal status, the game’s highest rank.

“Those cowboys would get an old mallet and they’d go out to the ranches, where they knew they could find horses that were broke to the saddle. Then they’d swing the mallet on them for a little bit, and the next day they’d be able to sell them as polo ponies.”

Today, on nearly any given summer afternoon, one can expect to find a friendly match at the Big Horn Polo Club. Down the road at the Flying H Polo Club, some of the world’s best players train and compete.

Led by U.S.P.A.-certified instructor Megan Flynn, the Big Horn Club now offers polo school to introduce enthusiasts, young and old, to the game. It also started a margarita league, which offers shorter games for novice players as a steppingstone to more competitive play.

“This is where everybody wants to come and play polo during the summer,” Katie Connell, president of the Big Horn Polo Club tells the Casper Star Tribune. “Our polo keeps going. It’s an unbelievable success.”

Seated in cattle country, Sheridan’s polo culture attracts many of the best players from around the world each year. The result is a unique and indelible combination of Western and English horsemanship, which puts a signature flare on the sport. It’s not unusual to see pick-up games played in roping saddles, or for Budweiser to be poured among spectators in place of customary champagne.

In many ways, Sheridan’s adoption of the game reflects its reception across the country. While keeping a foot in tradition, the sport is evolving to be more accessible to the public. It’s at once shedding pretenses that kept some at bay, while still preserving the refinement that contributes to its appeal.

“The best players in the United States are no longer the landed aristocracy,” Alex Webbe, a columnist for the Palm Beach Daily News told the New York Times in 1981. That evolution seems to now be coming full circle. No longer a sport only for society’s elite, polo has established its mass appeal, which will likely only continue to grow.