The State of Wyoming has a huge amount of checkerboard land ownership; therefore to understand Wyoming land prices, it’s important to understand checkerboard land ownership.
President Abraham Lincoln created checkerboard land ownership in 1862, when he signed into law the Pacific Railroad Act. The purpose of this legislation was to expand the railroads from the center of the nation all the way to the Pacific Coast. To facilitate the building of the railroads, the U.S. government gave every alternate section of land, up to 20 miles on either side of the railroad tracks, to the railroad companies. So for every township (a township contains 36 sections of land), the federal government kept 18 sections and gave the other 18 sections to the railroads.
Now, the interesting part of this checkerboard arrangement is the fact that it’s impossible to cross a township without crossing both federal lands and private lands (since they are intermingled throughout the township). To this mix, add legal precedents stating, “The public can’t cross private lands to access federal lands, but private landowners can cross federal lands to access their private lands.”
When the above is fully understood, it becomes clear that there are millions of public acres in the checkerboard area that can’t be visited, accessed, or enjoyed by the public (in essence, the taxpaying citizens of America). But, amazing as it may seem, the adjoining private owners have every right to cross and access these publicly owned lands en route to their private lands.
Up until now, at least, the private lands in the checkerboard have been valued at less money than private lands outside the checkerboard. But assuming the land isn’t going to be used for residential purposes (it is almost impossible to get building permits in the checkerboard area), what other restrictions apply to checkerboard lands? The answer is almost none!
While Wyoming land prices in the checkerboard area can be as low as $199 per acre (if you know where to look), the land can be used for the same purposes—hunting, camping, horseback riding, rights-of-way for pipelines, cell tower leases, and recreation—that $750-per- acre land is used for. In summary, there is no greater value in Wyoming land prices than those associated with large tracts of private land in the checkerboard area.