In the years after the financial crisis, someone built a luxury home inside a national park.
That someone was a luxury developer notorious for finding land of value to the federal government and buying it himself, and the national park was Black Canyon of the Gunnison, in western Colorado. It’s called the Black Canyon because it’s so deep, so narrow, and so sheer that the Gunnison River at its depths only receives 33 minutes of sunlight per day.
A luxury home inside a national park? If you’re like me, you might have thought: How is that possible? Aren’t national parks supposed to be national—and, therefore, public?
In fact, many national parks are dotted with “inholdings”: private land contained within a larger public shell. That private land, though contained within the borders of the park, can still be developed. Inholdings happen because Congress can draw the borders of a national park without purchasing all of the land inside. In fact, this is a fairly regular occurrence.
The situation on the Gunnison River is a special case, and most inholdings don’t wind up as luxury homes. (At last report, the developer was searching for a “benefactor” who would purchase the luxury home and donate it to the park service.) But many of the country’s most famous national parks are swiss-cheesed with private holdings.