CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can now take over operation of the Martin's Cove Historical Site in central Wyoming for tourism, education and religious observances for the next 25 years.
Robert A. Bennett, Wyoming Bureau of Land Management director, signed lease papers Tuesday covering 933.49 acres of public lands at the site.
The signing culminated years of negotiations between the church, Congress and the federal government.
The LDS Church originally wanted to buy 1,640 acres of land at Martin's Cove, but public opposition to that idea led to the lease compromise.
Church leaders have said they hope to prove during the initial 25-year lease that the church will be a capable steward of the site, perhaps paving the way for a longer lease or purchase in the future.
The site, about 60 miles southeast of Riverton, Wyo., is linked to one of the most compelling stories in the settling of the American frontier. In 1856, Mormon pioneers were trapped by an early winter storm as they neared the end of their 1,300-mile trek to Utah. They sought shelter in the cove, where many died.
Today, visitors to the site can push handcarts, walk portions of the trail and learn the details of the Martin's Cove tragedy.