County wants drug smuggler’s former ranch

By CJ Baker and Mark Davis Powell Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange

POWELL — Park County commissioners may ask the governor to hand over 657 acres of state land in Clark.
At a December meeting, commissioners said they would like to acquire the former Beartooth Ranch — which federal authorities seized from a drug smuggler roughly two decades ago — and some commissioners suggested selling the property to a private owner.
“I think we should pursue it and try to get that ranch released and deeded to Park County and then we can sell it and it can become an active ranch paying property taxes again,” Commissioner Tim French said at a December meeting.
However, Commission Chairman Loren Grosskopf said Wednesday that he’d rather “see it in the public hands so we could use it” and that the ranch’s ownership isn’t the county’s real concern with the ranch.
“It’s in deplorable condition. We only want someone to manage it and return it to productive use,” Grosskopf said.
The commission has drafted — but not yet sent — a letter to Gov. Matt Mead. It would ask Mead to work with Wyoming’s Congressional delegation to have various federal restrictions on the Beartooth Ranch removed — and to then transfer the property’s ownership to Park County “unrestricted,” though “while retaining public easements.”
Commissioners say the ranch has fallen into “extreme disrepair” under state management, citing vandalism to ranch buildings and the costs of controlling weeds on the property each year.
Commissioners generally approved the letter at their Jan. 16 meeting, but wanted to run it by Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric and make some further tweaks.
In the meantime, East Yellowstone Chapter of Trout Unlimited leaders sent commissioners and Gov. Mead a letter last week, “adamantly” objecting to the ranch being given to the county. The group’s letter says the county’s request appears to be “nothing more than a land grab.”
“I’ve been contacted by many members, some rarely heard from; they are unilaterally opposed to the transfer of the property to the county,” said East Yellowstone Chapter of Trout Unlimited President Tom Reed.
Somewhat ironically, a dispute over fishing access at the Beartooth Ranch played a part in the property falling into government hands.
Stewart Allen Bost, a boat captain, bought the Clark property in September 1987. Federal authorities say he financed the purchase with upwards of $1.35 million he’d earned from shuttling 3,000 kilograms of cocaine from the Bahamas to Florida.
Federal prosecutors indicted Bost on drug charges in 1989, but Bost began going by the name “Allen Stewart” and authorities were unable to find him.
According to a federal judge’s summary of the case and media reports from the time, local Bureau of Land Management officials began taking a hard look at “Stewart” in 1996 when he applied for grazing permits as both Bost and Stewart.
BLM personnel had also noted “continuing problems with missing signs, fencing, and blocking a state right-of-way onto the … property for public fishing,” U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson wrote in a later ruling.
Park County Sheriff Scott Steward became involved in the investigation and worked with U.S. marshals, in part because he’d spoken with “Stewart” on a traffic stop.
Steward and another officer spent months surveilling the ranch and eventually spotted Bost, helping marshals arrest him on the ranch in July 1996.
Over the years, the federal government seized hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cash and assets from Bost — including the ranch.
For its help, the Sheriff’s Office initially received $140,000, which included proceeds from a home Bost had owned in Colorado.
Then, after Bost got out of prison in 2000, locals spotted a large hole at the Beartooth Ranch. It turned out that Bost had reclaimed cash he’d buried years earlier.
That investigation wound up netting another $220,000 for the Sheriff’s Office. The county was in line to also receive the ranch until the Wyoming Attorney General claimed the property on behalf of the state, Steward says.
That’s long bothered him. Steward told commissioners that the state “absolutely had nothing to do with any of this investigation whatsoever,” federal authorities “did very little” and since the Sheriff’s Office “did all the legwork,” the ranch “rightfully should have went to Park County.”
The federal government turned the ranch over to Wyoming in 1999, subject to a series of conditions. A memorandum of understanding says the state must use the property “solely as a public area reserved for recreational or historic purposes or for the preservation of natural conditions.”
Crops can be grown on 80 acres near the ranch house and livestock can be grazed in certain areas if they don’t interfere with recreation.
Management of the ranch was initially transferred to the local chapter of the National Audubon Society, which wanted to use the property as a nonprofit education center. But the society soon found the project to be beyond its financial capabilities and canceled the lease, leaving the land vacant and uncared for.
Clark resident Lloyd Thiel recently brought the Beartooth Ranch to the commission’s attention, expressing frustration with the “neglected and abandoned” state of what was once “a very nice working ranch.”
“With the removal of agriculture from the use of the ranch, basically they [the state] found out what everybody around here knows — is if you don’t have agriculture, you don’t have green pastures, livestock, trees die, wildlife leaves and you end up with a barren, nothing eyesore,” Thiel told the commission on Dec. 19.
Thiel said he considered putting forward his own proposal for the land, but soon learned of the federal government’s restrictions.
“The more I found out about it, the madder I got, the more disgusted I got,” Thiel said. “And I [now] know I’ve got basically nothing to benefit except as a taxpayer on this.”
He suggested commissioners work with state leaders and Wyoming’s Congressional delegation to have the federal restrictions “loosened up, released or something, so that our state can have full control of what to do with this property.”
Commissioners, however, said they would rather have the Beartooth Ranch given to the county.
That drew opposition from the East Yellowstone Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
“We sincerely question the motive behind the request to transfer this land to the county,” reads a portion of the group’s letter, authorized by the chapter’s board on Jan. 24. “It appears to us that it is nothing more than a land grab; intended to place this land into county hands where it can be sold to the highest bidder.”
Tim Wade, owner of North Fork Anglers in Cody, a lifetime member of Trout Unlimited and a member of the Cody Anglers Group, was a Park County commissioner when fishermen were kept off the Beartooth Ranch by the Florida fugitive.
“We’ve got to protect this resource now as part of our legacy to future generations,” Wade said.
He and Reed, the president of the East Yellowstone Chapter of Trout Unlimited, took a morning drive to the so-called drug ranch last week, before the group penned its letter.
With each step into the strong current of the Clarks Fork, they became more immersed in the hunt for trout. They placed their flies with precision, each cast highlighted with flashes from neon-pink strike indicators against blue skies above distant snow-capped peaks of the Beartooth Range.
“This place is so beautiful, it’s one of the few places you can go and not care if you catch fish,” said Reed.
The river is open as it flows through the ranch for 1 1/2 miles. This time of the year, it typically freezes in other areas of the river with public access.
Reaching the banks of the Clarks Fork is easy at the ranch, both to fishermen and boat enthusiasts. A fire in the mountains above in the 1990s has led to earlier snow melts, Wade said. That has raised the temperature of the river above ideal conditions.
The group of anglers, which is working on several projects intended to better the waterway for fish production, would like to see restrictions in that portion of the river. That includes limiting the access area to catch and release only and banning the use of live bait.
They also don’t want the area to become home to livestock. The runoff of manure nutrients will encourage more plants to grow in the river, raising the temperature of the water even further, they say.
After wetting their lines, Reed and Wade took stock of the abandoned Beartooth Ranch buildings.
The structures have sat empty for years and breaches by partiers have left holes in security, but “whoever built this did it right,” Wade said, while inspecting the large log home on the property.
Trees that once shaded the ranch property went unattended and have died — some falling on outbuildings of varying ages. Weeds growing unchecked are an invitation for rattlers, giving the area the reputation of being “snaky.”
Deer and pronghorn tracks lead from the river’s edge to a large parcel of sagebrush — a Wyoming home for sage grouse, long-billed curlew, horned larks and many other species.
Reed photographed two golden eagles on the trip and two bald eagles as well.
“Antelope and deer are down in here. We’ve seen elk and grizzly bears here. This is pheasant and chukar habitat and guys hunt here. And it fishes pretty good,” Wade said. “A couple chainsaws and few days work and most of the damage here could be cleaned up.”
County officials have taken a dimmer view of the ranch’s condition. Commissioner French said the damaged ranch house likely needs to be burned down and Sheriff Steward called the buildings “a wreck” during the December meeting.
In the letter they’ve drafted to Gov. Mead, commissioners say “the Beartooth Ranch has now become an eyesore and expense.”
“A property of such potential should be given the opportunity to prosper,” the commission wrote in the draft.
Commissioner Grosskopf contrasted the Beartooth Ranch with a state-owned property near Beulah, known as Ranch A. It was also seized by the federal government and is managed by a private foundation.
“It’s a remarkable place,” Grosksopf said of Ranch A, adding, “Turning that piece of property [the Beartooth Ranch] back to someone like that would really be a valuable resource for Park County or for the state.” 


Glenrock Independent

Physical Address:506 W. Birch, Glenrock, WY 82637 Mailing Address: PO Box 109, Douglas, WY 82633 Phone: (307) 436-2211

The Glenrock Independent is located in the Bronco Building

Office hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday - 10:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday - 9:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Subscriber Login