CASPER, Wyo. — With the yee-haw glee of one much younger, Doran Boston fired up his Polaris all-terrain vehicle and powered it far ahead of other off-roaders for a tour of his ranch in early September.
From a cabin on his ranch at the base of Muddy Mountain, Boston led a group along two track trails, across open country, up and down hills, through and beside Otter and Smith creeks and to the remnants of his wife's family's homesteads.
Antelope, deer and elk ran in the distance. Quizzical horses and bored-looking cattle looked up from their grazing.
And at the tops of ridges and hills, the landscape played out nearly forever north beyond Casper Mountain and the plains.
These nearly 4,500 acres belonging to him and the cousin of his wife, Nancy, have been the joy and work of their family for nearly a century.
Both Nancy's grandfather, Harry Matthew Davis, and her father, Harry Guy Davis, homesteaded the land and passed it on to her and Doran, a retired civil engineer with Worthington Lenhart and Carpenter.
“It's pristine,” Nancy Boston said. “Essentially, it looks just like when my grandfather homesteaded it in 1916.”
Now it's time to move on.
Their children are grown, live out-of-state, and don't want to take over the ranch.
So they want to sell it, and not just to anybody, either.
They want Wyoming to have it.
In June, the Bostons filed an application with the Office of State Lands and Investments asking it to acquire their ranch so sportsmen and other recreationists could access it and adjacent state and federal lands for generations to come.
That application launched a process that included hiring an appraiser, whose report is being reviewed by the office, he said.
“It's not a money thing,” Doran Boston said. “We're 70 years old, how much more money do we need?”
They'd like to keep about 80 acres, plus allow a lease-back provision, he said.
If the Board of Land Commissioners — the five statewide elected officials — approves the acquisition, they will put the some of the money in an education trust for their grandchildren and spend some on themselves, they said.
The state couldn't do much better than their ranch, they said. After all these years, no easements, power lines, pipelines or other manmade objects other than fences traverse the Davis-Boston Ranch on Muddy Mountain.
The ranch boasts plenty of water flowing in Otter and Smith creeks, and springs disgorge the precious liquid in abundance.
Finally, there's the wildlife.
Generations of families have hunted in this area of Muddy Mountain, especially for the magnificent elk.
“Obviously it would be a tremendous gain on the part of the state to (grant access to) the best elk hunting in central Wyoming,” local sportsman Jeff Muratore said. “We would strongly urge the state to look at this purchase.”
Besides hunting, the land would be available for horseback riding and other recreation, he said.
It also would give the Game and Fish Department the ability to manage the elk herd, something it could not do on private land, Muratore said.
The access issue extends beyond the boundaries of the Boston ranch to adjacent state trust lands, he said. “The acquisition would tie together thousands of acres landlocked or hard to access by private property.”
If approved, people could travel another way to visit the Muddy Mountain Environmental Education Area, too.
The future of hunting, other recreation and access to public lands has weighed deeply on the Bostons, who are wary if respectful of their neighbor Russell Gordy, who already owns thousands of acres of deeded land and leases state lands at his Falls Ranch — home of Lone Star Land & Cattle Co. Quarter Horses — at the east end of Casper Mountain, they said.
Doran Boston said he likes the guy. “He's been an excellent neighbor.”
However, the Houston oilman has gained a reputation for wanting the mountain, and more, as a private hunting preserve for himself and a few friends.
“Gordy is essentially buying up all the land,” Boston said.
Earlier this year, hundreds of recreationists and hunters loudly protested Gordy's proposed exchange of 16,353 acres of his deeded land for 14,019 acres of state trust lands to consolidate his ranch from Muddy Mountain north to Hat Six Road.
If the Board of Land Commissioners had approved it, it would have been one of the largest private-public land swaps in recent history.
Gordy, through his attorneys Mike Sullivan and Dave Palmerlee, withdrew the proposal after sportsmen denounced it as a ploy to close access to the foothills and mountains by closing Smith Creek Road.
The Gordy proposal taught Muratore and other sportsmen what they stand to lose in access to public lands, he said. “We're going to head off these (exchanges) in the future.”
The Bostons' offer to the state is teaching them what they could gain, Muratore said. “All the things the sportsmen are fighting for, nothing exemplifies it like the Boston ranch.”
For his part, Gordy said he wanted the exchange to thwart an effort by Wasatch Wind, which came to him with an offer to lease land he uses at Deer Creek Park for a wind farm, which would have driven the elk away.
“That was the whole purpose of the trade, to not have windmills on the mountain,” he said in a telephone interview from his Houston office. “Here I was, trying to help Wyoming.”
Muratore said he didn't think much of that argument, because a wind farm would have required easements, roads and a lot of effort to haul the massive towers and turbines through rough terrain.
After the impracticalities were pointed out, Gordy dropped that reason for wanting the exchange, Muratore said.
Wasatch Wind spokeswoman Michelle Stevens said the company applied in March or April 2009 for a lease in that area, but withdrew it a month later after people with grazing leases objected. Gordy filed his application with the Office of State Lands and Investments in November 2009.
Gordy also denied that he has closed access to his land, or tried to prevent people from hunting on Muddy Mountain, he said. “I don't feel welcome in Wyoming after being there for 17 years.”
On the other hand, he liked the idea of the state acquiring the Boston ranch and offered an option if it didn't work out, he said.
“If the state didn't want it, I told him I would consider it,” he said. “I've got plenty of land, I don't need any more.”
Boston recalled Gordy telling him if he did buy the ranch, he'd probably shut the gates to public access through his property to state lands.
The future of the Davis-Boston Ranch illustrates the larger discussion of whether money alone can guide how Wyoming develops as a rural state.
Nancy and Doran Boston could grab all they could either by selling to Gordy, or make even more by subdividing the ranch and selling parcels to developers.
But they're not about that, and they don't think Wyoming at heart is, either, they said.
“It's for people of Casper and Natrona County to get in and hunt,” Doran Boston said.
Contact Tom Morton at 307-266-0592.