Marton Ranch’s Future Coming Into Focus
Bureau of Land Management holds public hearing in first step toward outlining use of the 35,670-acre property
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Nov 21, 2023
The Bureau of Land Management held its first public hearing earlier this month to receive comments regarding the future of the 35,670-acre Marton Ranch near Casper, the acquisition of which was affirmed by the agency in June. The nearly 56-square-mile ranch is currently being used by hikers, wildlife watchers and hunters, along with for animal grazing and fishing. (Courtesy photo from the Bureau of Land Management)
By K.L. McQuaid
Special to the Wyoming Truth
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has received the first in what is likely to be a series of public comments on future management of the Marton Ranch southwest of Casper.
A BLM public hearing on Nov. 8, in Casper, marked the first time the agency sought feedback regarding the 35,670-acre property since its acquisition of the land was affirmed in June.
“We, as an agency, spent the summer with boots on the ground within the ranch, examining fences, roads and trials and identifying what, if any surveys might be needed in the future,” Ben Bigalke, acting field manager in BLM’s Casper field office, told the Wyoming Truth.
BLM’s $21 million acquisition of the roughly 56-square-mile ranch represented the largest purchase of private lands by a public entity in Wyoming history when the sale was completed in mid-2022.
At the time, the agency lauded the purchase because it would expand public access to the North Platte River. Combining Marton Ranch with other BLM-managed and state lands would result in a 75,000-acre contiguous tract that could further tourism and conservation efforts, the agency noted.
But Gov. Mark Gordon objected to a lack of notice or public input about the deal, prompting the agency to conduct a supplemental environmental analysis and required additional public comment.
“This land, like the people and businesses reliant on multiple-use and public access of public lands, has tremendous potential,” Gordon said of Marton Ranch and the contiguous properties in June after BLM’s purchase was affirmed.
Taking an inventory this past summer of the Marton Ranch property represented the first step in BLM’s ongoing and future management, Bigalke said. For decades, the land had been used primarily for raising cattle and sheep.
In the months since BLM took control of the property, the agency has managed the ranch and the adjoining lands in the same way they have been operated previously. The Marton family, for instance, continues to graze animals on a portion of the land.
Bigalke said obtaining public comments kicked off the second phase of the agency’s ownership, and the forum represented a pathway to any changes in recreational or other uses in the future.
An ‘educational’ meeting
The two-hour meeting in the Hilton Garden Inn, which Bigalke described as “primarily educational,” drew nearly two dozen people.
“The tone of the meeting was very positive,” Bigalke said. “The people of Wyoming support the acquisition and what it can provide.”
Currently, the Marton Ranch and surrounding public lands are being used by hikers, wildlife watchers, recreational shooters and hunters, along with the aforementioned grazing.
The property, which now contains eight consecutive miles of the Platte River, also is being used for trout and other fishing.
Bigalke added that BLM’s task currently is to determine from stakeholders and citizens whether any changes in management might be desired. Comments to date have suggested opening the land to additional off-road vehicular use, while others have sought answers regarding whether certain roads and trails within the property would remain open.
“There’s been some significant interest in what future road access will look like,” he said.
Public comments will be received through Dec. 9.
The agency also intends to engage with tribal partners next spring and summer to solicit opinions about the lands’ cultural and religious significance. About 20 Native American tribes have a connection to the land, Bigalke said.
Additionally, the agency plans to retain specially trained archeologists to examine and evaluate various structures on the ranch to determine if they warrant historic protection. Those evaluations are required by law.
“That’s our next step,” Bigalke said. “We know there are a lot of historic structures on the ranch, so we’re required to analyze them.”
To date, the agency has not scheduled any other public hearings on the future of the ranch and the surrounding property. But officials stress the recent Casper meeting represented the beginning of what will likely be a protracted dialogue about Marton Ranch.
“This public hearing was not the end of the conversation, by any means, from our perspective,” said Tyson Finnicum, a BLM spokesman.