The biggest piece of private property in Jackson Hole has sold after being owned by the same family for more than 50 years.
The Walton Ranch is known to most in the area as a great view looking toward the Tetons from Highway 22 just to the east of the Snake River. But its 1,848 acres stretch more than 3 miles to the north to the Gros Ventre River and include large irrigated areas.
“It’s got that world-class, straight-shot view of the Grand Teton,” said Colorado broker Ron Morris of Ranch Marketing Associates, who had the listing on the ranch since 2011 when the descendants of Paul Walton put it on the market.
The ranch was originally priced at $100 million, but that was cut several times as the property didn’t move, in spite of a lot of interest, Morris said. Though the final price wasn’t announced, the ranch had been advertised most recently at $39 million.
Morris worked with Hall and Hall Realtors’ Joel Leadbetter, who brought the buyer to the table, and Tim Murphy, who worked in Jackson on the sale for the Montana firm.
The Realtors wouldn’t say who the new owner is, and Leadbetter called him “very private.” The new owner is listed in county records as 4W LLC, with an address in Pennsylvania. Morris identified the new owner as the CEO of a large company.
But while the new owners remain unnamed for the moment, they won’t be changing much at the ranch, Morris said. The land, which Walton put under a conservation easement in 1983, can’t be used for any commercial development other than the cattle operation that Walton ran there. The new owner, Morris said, will continue to run cattle: “They bought the cows, too,” he said Monday.
The ranch has run in the neighborhood of 400 to 500 head in recent years. It has 800 flood-irrigated acres and raises about 2,000 tons a hay each year.
The strict easement granted to the Jackson Hole Land Trust — it even prohibits hunting any of the resident elk on the property — was an impediment to selling the ranch, Morris said.
“That was part of the problem” he said. “If there hadn’t been that easement on it, it would have sold a lot faster.”
Morris said most easements scare shoppers, but most allow more than the one at the Walton Ranch does. Besides the ban on commercial activity, all development is confined to two building areas. One of those is the site where Walton and his wife, Betty, built a modest three-bedroom, two-bath house of 2,234 square feet in 1964.
Walton began assembling the ranch in 1958. He died in 1998, and Betty died in 2010. They left the spread to three children: son Paul Walton Jr. and daughters Holly Walton-Buchanan, of Reno, Nevada, and Ann Walton, of Cheyenne. Paul Walton Jr. died in February 2015.
Walton Senior was a geologist known for his pioneering exploratory work in Saudi Arabia in the 1940s and for later oil finds in Utah. Though his work left him well off, he wasn’t the kind of buyer that typifies the Jackson realty market these days.
“Paul Walton was not a rich man when he assembled the ranch,” Morris said. “At times he wondered how he was going to make the payments. ... The land was certainly not at the value it is now.”
Morris said that Walton’s love was for the ranching life and that he worked to make his place successful.
“The ranch meant the world to him,” he said. “He got his hands dirty; he worked cattle.”
Morris thinks the new owner, who he said has some experience in Jackson Hole, will be welcomed.
“I know they’re going to do some remodeling and enjoy it,” he said of the owners. “They’re going to ranch it, and I think they’re going to be a good addition to the community.”
“They own other rural properties and they’re going to be good stewards of the land,” he said. “They will carry on the Walton tradition.”
Before putting down the money, Morris said, “they had their hiking boots on and went to every corner of the ranch. ... I think they will be good stewards.”