Culminating a five-year effort, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gained control of Martin’s Cove — 940 acres of federal land — where several dozen Mormon immigrants died in a blizzard in 1856.
considers the site, southwest of Casper, Wyo., sacred and sought to
buy it (HCN, 9/30/02: This land holds a story the church won't
tell). But opposition from most of Wyoming’s congressional
delegation caused a change in tactics. Instead, Wyoming Sen. Craig
Thomas, R, slipped a lease deal into a massive energy and water
appropriations bill that Congress passed Nov. 18.
lease, with the Bureau of Land Management, has terms nearly as
favorable as a sale. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the lease
runs for 25 years, and the church has the right to renew it in
perpetuity. The lease will allow additional improvements to attract
Thousands of Mormons visit the site each year
to walk a remnant of the historic Mormon trail that stretched to
Salt Lake City. The church runs a visitors’ center on an
adjacent ranch, and interpretive signs mention the importance of
faith. The lease rate hasn’t been determined, but the church
can deduct some money, in return for providing public access across
a piece of church land.
Thomas says the lease will
“help inform and educate the public” to the struggles
of Western pioneers. Opponents say it sets a bad precedent by
converting public land to religious purposes. Rob Boston of
Americans United for Separation of Church and State calls it a