In this Word Power episode, we will talk about Peaks and Politics, and in the context of our story for today, you’re going to learn 10 new words that you can add to your active vocabulary bank.

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Peaks and Politics

Rising straight up from the valley floor, the Teton Mountains thrust into the sky like huge spears. On some days the snow-tipped peaks seem close enough to touch; on others, they appear aloof and unapproachable, smothered by clouds. Most visitors to Wyoming who revel in the mountains’ beauty probably don’t know that this small corner of the world was once the setting for political upheaval. It took more than fifty years to resolve the strife among conservationists, big-game hunters, dude ranchers, cattle barons, lumber companies, and politicians.

The first attempt to turn the Tetons into a national park took place in 1898, when the suggestion was made to annex it to nearby Yellowstone Park. Cattle ranch owners, fearing the loss of valuable grazing land, defeated the proposal. After World War I the price of beef plunged, and cattle breeders needed a new way to make a living. One result was dude ranches that lured easterners to the romantic West, where they could play at being cowboys. In retrospect, the dude ranches sound like an American version of the African big game hunt. Hunters flocked to the area, clamoring for the opportunity to be photographed with their kills of elk, moose, buffalo, or bear. It wasn’t long before hot-dog stands, cheap motels, and souvenir shops defiled the beauty of the area.

With the hope of rescuing the Tetons, Horace Albright, superintendent of Yellowstone, escorted industrialist John D. Rockefeller Jr. on a trip through the mountains in 1926. Since Rockefeller’s very name would have increased land prices beyond realistic levels, Albright suggested that Rockefeller form a secret company to purchase land in the area. When it was learned that Rockefeller had bought much of the valley of Jackson Hole to deed it to the nation for a national park, however, tumult resulted. The mountains, lakes, and a very small section of the valley were made into the first Grand Teton National Park in 1929, but Rockefeller’s gift of more than 33,000 acres-much of the rest of the valley-was refused. His act of pure altruism was interpreted as an invasive attempt to cheat poor homesteaders. Actually, the vilification of Rockefeller came mostly from the cattlemen, who were afraid that the Park Service would not allow them free access to the valley grazing lands. The line was-and still is drawn between conservation and exploitation.

In 1942, Rockefeller informed President Franklin D. Roosevelt that if the National Park Service would not take over the land, he was going to sell it. When Roosevelt accepted the gift by executive privilege, Congress passed a law to stop it, which the president, in turn, vetoed. Another eight years passed before all the land that Rockefeller had bought, plus the earlier national park, was turned into the Grand Teton National Park.

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