State Lands in Idaho

Link to the State of Idaho


Link to Parks and Recreation


In 1965, two things came together that resulted in the creation of a state park system in Idaho. First, Roland and Averrell Harriman agreed to donate what is now Harriman State Park to the State of Idaho on the condition that a professional agency be created to manage it. Second, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund was created. Statewide recreation planning was required to qualify for the federal funds which were used to develop state and local recreation facilities. It would take a state agency to do that.

Prior to the authorization of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, there existed in the state areas designated "scenic and recreational," usually parks and campgrounds. Since 1907 these areas had been administered by the State Land Board. In 1947, state parks were transferred to the Highway Department, and responsibility grew with the addition of a number of roadside areas, where motorists on the freeway might pull off for a night's rest. In 1949 control of the parks system was transferred to the State Land Board. A Parks Division was created within the Land Board in 1953. John W. Emmert, a retired former superintendent of Glacier National Park, took charge of the Idaho program in April 1958. This form of administration continued until 1959 when Emmert was replaced with three regional directors.

Since 1965, the Department has been governed by a six-person bipartisan board, each member representing a different geographic area of the state. The board has the power "to appoint a ....director to serve at its discretion" (Title 67, Chapter 42, Idaho Code). In 1966, the board appointed Wilhelm A Beckert to the post of director. In 1971, Steve Bly assumed the director's position. He served until 1975. Dale R. Christiansen served from 1976-1984. Then in 1984, Bob Meinen, who had joined the Department in 1977, was promoted to director and stayed until 1987, when he left to assume a cabinet-level post in the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. He is currently Director of the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation.

Yvonne Ferrell became the fifth director in December 1987, after having served as deputy director in the Washington State Parks and Recreation division. At the time she was hired by the Board, Yvonne was the only female director in the nation.

Look at some statistics on park visitation and use.


Funding for Park Development

The federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been responsible for the acquisition, development, and improvement of over $60 million in outdoor recreation sites and facilities in Idaho since 1965, which includes 475 recreational projects. Most of that money has been spent to develop city and county park facilities. The annual appropriation for Idaho ranged from $0 to $1.5 million. The majority of the money came from fees paid by oil companies for off-shore leasing. The program provided 50 percent matching grant monies to sponsors of approved projects. Money collected for the LWCF stateside program has not been appropriated in recent years.

Of particular significance was the acquisition and development of Harriman State Park for over $8.8 million, the largest LWCF project in the state. This project also included the acquisition and development of other parks in the state, such as Ponderosa, Heyburn, Winchester, Henrys Lake, Farragut and Bruneau Dunes.

In 1981, the Department began charging fees for park entrance and use. This revenue goes into the Parks and Recreation fund in support of operations and minor maintenance. Further revenues accrue from sales at concessions, user fees, non-profit support groups, and other grants.

The Good Sam organization, boaters, snowmobilers, trail machine associations, key Legislators, and many other interested individuals mounted a campaign in 1988 that resulted in the Legislature providing an increase in the percent of gas tax attributable to off-road motor vehicles and boats. The Legislature also stipulated that one-half of the recreational vehicle license fee should go to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation to support RV needs. In later years the law was changed to give IDPR all of the recreational vehicle license fee. That money is then disbursed in the form of grants to local, state and federal agencies providing programs and facilities to RV users.


Although the Legislature did not add the word "recreation" to the Department of Parks until 1972, in the twenty years since then, recreation programs have grown to the extent that they have provided grants to nearly every county, community, national forest, and BLM district in the state.

In 1966, the State Park Board was granted the power "to prepare and maintain a comprehensive plan for the development of outdoor recreational resources." Three years later, the first comprehensive plan was adopted through an effort led by Howard Alden, special assistant to the Governor. "It set a tradition of recreation planning that has continued through the years and involved a legacy of dedicated staff and public officials."

Further Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans (SCORP) were developed in 1968, 1973, 1977, 1983, and 1989. A few of the significant recommendations of those years follow:

-1968 SCORP: The Park Board should evaluate and make recommendations for an Idaho trail system and free flowing (wild) rivers. Roadside rest areas were considered an integral part of the state recreation program.
-1973 SCORP: Special studies included the ORV Plan, National Wild and Scenic Rivers Report, Statewide Interpretive Analysis, an Idaho Trails Study, State Waterways Carrying Capacity Study, and a Lake Shore Development Study.
-1977 SCORP: New recreation facilities were greatly needed in and near urban areas.
-1983 SCORP: An extensive outreach effort took place in 1981 with 49 public hearings, which agency facilitators conducted. A total of 736 Idahoans attended.
-1989 SCORP: The Governor's Conference on Recreation (Fall '89), attended by outdoor recreation professionals, forged a new partnership with those working in the tourism industry. The 1989 SCORP also included a regional needs assessment in conjunction with Washington and Oregon, previously initiated by Robert L. Meinen in 1982.

Chronological Listing of State Park Acquisitions

Heyburn: The first park in the Northwest, was created from the Coeur d' Alene Indian Reservation by an act of Congress on April 20, 1908. The deed, signed by President William Howard Taft, granted 5,505 acres of land and 2,333 acres of water. The park was named in honor of Senator W. B. Heyburn, who was instrumental in the acquisition. Congress objected to the land becoming a national park, but set it aside for purchase by the State. In 1911, the Idaho Legislature appropriated $12,000 to buy the park land from the U. S. Government. Additional property for the park was acquired by deed in 1938. Heyburn is noted for "the Shadowy St. Joe River."

Mary Minerva McCroskey: The 5,292 acres ranging from 3300 to 4324 feet elevation of the McCroskey State Park were donated to the State of Idaho in 1955 by Virgil McCroskey as a memorial to his mother. He then maintained the park trail system until his death in 1970. The park consists of a 21-mile skyline drive with spectacular views of ever-changing agricultural patchwork in the valley. Additional acreage was deeded to the state by the McCroskey family members in 1972. In 1973, 40 acres were acquired by endowment purchase.

Harriman: Over 10,000 acres of Harriman State Park were conveyed from Roland E. and W. Averell Harriman in 1977 at no cost to the state, and not subject to life estates. The Harrimans were reluctant to complete the transaction until Idaho had a professional park service to manage the park, a condition that helped Governor Smylie create the Idaho Parks Department in 1965. In 1982, the park opened to the public. The park is home to two-thirds of all trumpeter swans who winter in the lower 48 states. It is managed as a natural and historical site.

Bruneau Dunes: Purchased under the Recreation and Public Purposes Act (May, 1967), Bruneau Dunes offers the visitor the largest single-structured sand dune in the North America, rising to a height of 470 feet. Geologists believe the dunes may have started with sands from the Bonneville Flood about 15,000 years ago. Additional land was acquired by the Department in 1980 and in 1984, bringing the total acreage to 4800.

Lucky Peak: Near Lucky Peak Dam, 10 miles southeast of Boise on Highway 21, Lucky Peak State Park consists of three main areas: Discovery, Sandy Point, and Spring Shores. An agreement with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (1956) led to the park's development. The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation leased Sandy Point and Spring Shores from the Corps in 1967, but owns Discovery outright as a result of a deed from Leston and Lee Brooks in 1935.

Massacre Rocks: Lining the shoreline of the Snake River west of American Falls, Massacre Rocks was acquired using Recreation and Public Purposes funds in 1967, and by a Memorandum of Understanding with the Idaho Transportation Department, since Massacre Rocks was originally a roadside rest area managed by the Highway Department. It also boasts Oregon Trail history. A satellite area known as Register Rock bears the axle grease signatures of those early Oregon Trail immigrants.

Three Island Crossing: This park was acquired by deed from the city of Glenns Ferry to IDPR in 1968 to preserve the point where the Oregon Trail crossed the Snake River in the 1840s. It was formally opened to the public in 1971. Additional property was acquired through the Recreation and Public Purposes Act in 1968.

Bear Lake: On the shore of Bear Lake south of Montpelier, Bear Lake State Park offers sandy beaches, camping, and boating. The land for the park was purchased in 1969 through the Recreation and Public Purposes Act. The North Beach Unit was leased from Utah Power and Light, also in 1969. Bear Lake appears as a spectacular blue jewel, its unique color created by the suspended calcium carbonate (limestone) in the water.

Winchester Lake: This 418-acre park encompasses most of Winchester Lake. The Fish and Game Department acquired the lake and the property surrounding it, and by a Memorandum of Understanding transferred the administration of most of the area to IDPR in 1969. The park is a favorite of anglers and campers who seek out its quiet family atmosphere.

Malad Gorge: Near Hagerman, Malad Gorge was the scene of stops by mule-skinners and freight wagons along a route West before 1879. About 650 acres were purchased in 1970 and the park officially opened in 1979. An additional 200 acres were purchased through the Recreation and Public Purposes program in 1975. The park is unique because of the vast gorge cut by the Malad River on its way to the Snake.

Mowry: Mowry State Park received its first 136 acres on Lake Coeur d'Alene through a gift to the State by Virginia Mowry in 1972. The State has since purchased additional land to bring the total acreage to 328. This property boasts spectacular views of the lake and offers a unique campground and picnic area accessible only by boat.

Veterans Memorial: In the heart of Boise, Veterans Memorial was acquired through three sources: 36 acres transferred from the State Land Board in 1969, a 12 acre gift, deeded in May 1972, from Boise Cascade; and a further addition of 38 acre acquired from the Idaho Park Foundation in 1977. It is the site of the first Veterans Home built in the West. The park is currently operated by the City of Boise.

Hells Gate: Hells Gate State Park lies at the gateway to Hells Canyon. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, having built lower Granite Dam across the Snake River, developed the park as mitigation for the dam. The state leased 960 acres for use as a park from the Corps in 1973. The park is the "jumping off place" for thousands of visitors to the canyon.

Round Lake: The Idaho Department of Lands owned the original 160-acre quarter-section, which included 58-acre Round Lake. In 1955, the Department of Lands purchased another 40 acres. After the Department of Parks and Recreation was formed in 1965, it took control of the park. An endowment sale formally transferred the property to IDPR in 1973.

Priest Lake: Once part of the Priest Lake State Forest administered by the Department of Lands, the area was transferred to IDPR in 1973. The Dickensheet unit was donated to the state by a locally prominent rancher. The Squaw Bay unit was acquired from the Nature Conservancy in 1986.

Farragut: Opened in 1942 as a Naval Training Station, in just 15 months, 300,000 sailors received their basic training while stationed at this unique site. It was de-commissioned in 1946. The State acquired the 4,000-acre base through the use of endowment funds in 1973. Five additional acres were acquired in 1991 by deed.

Ponderosa: Ponderosa State Park has a history beginning in 1905, when the Boise Columbian Club sponsored a bill to protect the wooded peninsula on Payette Lake. In 1907 the Idaho Legislature directed the Land Board to set aside specified parcels on the southern shore as a public park. The more than 1300 acres of Ponderosa are part of the endowment lands acquired by IDPR in 1973.

City of Rocks National Reserve: The City of Rocks with natural spires and domes rising to 600 to 700 feet covers 14,000 acres in Cassia County. Since the 1920s and '30s, those who knew the remote area worked to save it and finally, in 1987, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1988, the area became a National Historic Reserve. IDPR acquired a portion of the City of Rocks core property in 1973 by purchase from endowment funds. City of Rocks is cooperatively managed with the National Park Service.

Henrys Lake: Acquired by IDPR in 1973 by means of an endowment fund purchase, Henry's Lake State Park is named after Maj. Andrew Henry, who was sent by the Missouri Fur Company to explore the area in 1810.

Old Mission: Old Mission State Park offers the visitor an excellent picture of Idaho history, particularly that associated with the Roman Catholic Jesuits who came to Idaho in 1840 and built the historic Mission of the Sacred Heart, oldest building in Idaho. Old Mission was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and in 1975 became Old Mission State Park through a long-term lease with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise.

Eagle Island: In March of 1977 the Department of Correction turned over 546 acres of land previously used for the Eagle Island Prison Farm to the Idaho Department of Lands. In response to a poll concerning disposition of the land in the local newspaper, a year later the Land Board voted to set aside the property to be managed as Eagle Island State Park.

Dworshak: Governor Cecil Andrus dedicated Dworshak State Park in 1989. In so doing the state took over administration of two facilities built by the Army Corps of Engineers, Freeman Creek (a 101 unit campground) and Three Meadows Group Camp with eight sleeping cabins and a group hall capable of feeding 100. The facilities border 53-mile-long Dworshak Reservoir.

Land of the Yankee Fork: Located in scenic central Idaho, Land of the Yankee Fork involves an innovative partnership with the United States Forest Service. IDPR manages the Yankee Fork Interpretive Center and provides interpretive services on other land in the area managed by the Forest Service. The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation acquired 20 acres in the area through two deeds in 1990 in honor of Idaho's Centennial. This 20-acre site is the home of the Land of the Yankee Fork Interpretive Center.

Niagara Springs: The department assumed management responsibility for Niagara Springs State park through a series of management agreements with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game beginning in 1976. The 572 acre area was originally managed as a satellite unit of Malad Gorge State park and was given separate status by the Park and Recreation Board in 1994.

Ashton-Tetonia Rail Trail: Using a federal highway administration grant, the department has purchased a 31 mile abandoned railway running from Ashton to Tetonia. As the trail is developed, bicyclists, snowmobilers, and other enthusiasts will be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the western side of the Teton Mountains. The legislature appropriated operational funds for the trail in 1995. The trail is currently closed to the public during construction.

Glade Creek: The site of Lewis and Clark's first camp in Idaho, Glade Creek is in the process of being acquired by the State of Idaho from Plum Creek Timber Company, with the help of the Idaho Heritage Trust. Agreements were signed for the eventual transfer by Idaho Governor Phil Batt in 1998. In the interim period, IHT and IDPR are working with the Clearwater Forest on a management plan for the site. Because the Glade Creek Camp has been largely untouched since the time of Lewis and Clark, plans call for keeping it in that state as much as possible.

Cascade: In 1999 the Idaho Legislature authorized the Idaho Park Board to enter into an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation for the operation of facilities at Cascade Reservoir, which became known as Cascade Lake State Park.

Lake Walcott: In 1999 the Idaho Legislature authorized the Idaho Park Board to enter into an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation for the operation of facilities at Lake Walcott, which became known as Lake Walcott State Park.

Box Canyon: This important natural area in Idaho's Thousand Springs Complex became a state park in December, 1999. It is managed jointly with the Nature Conservancy pending the eventual completion of purchase by the State of Idaho. In order to protect the site and because of safety concerns, it will remain closed to the public until on-site management can begin.

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