Monday, May 22, 2017

How many Idaho state parks are there?

One of the most common questions I get is, how many state parks are there in Idaho? Right now, 30 with an asterisk.
Idaho has always had a hard time defining the term state park. For decades one meaning was something like: any land owned by the state of Idaho that invited citizens to use it. That included rest areas and roadside stops that happened to have a picnic table. As a result, state parks were managed at various times by the Idaho Department of Transportation, Public Works, and the Idaho Department of Lands. It wasn’t until 1965 that a dedicated state parks agency was formed.
Today’s “30” state parks include at least one you’ve never heard of and is difficult to visit and one that isn’t actually managed as a state park anymore.
Mowry State Park, on Lake Coeur d’Alene, became a state park in 1972 when the Mowry family made a partial donation of the property to the state. It’s the one you’ve probably never heard of. The property is on two small peninsulas with a beautiful beach between the two. The problem is that the state doesn’t own the beach. It hoped to acquire it, but was unsuccessful. That left one peninsula that is two high about the water and two small to be of much use, and another peninsula that can be reached only by boat. That one, called Gasser Point, is managed as a boat-in picnic site by Kootenai County Parks and Waterways.
Veterans Park in Boise used to be known as Veterans Memorial State Park, beginning in 1982. The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) turned management of the site over to Boise Parks and Recreation in 1997. You won’t see signs there calling it a state park, but it’s still listed as such in statute, and is still owned by the State of Idaho.
Another thing that makes counting state parks confusing is local usage. Many people call Malad Gorge, Billingsley Creek, Box Canyon, Ritter Island, and Niagara Springs state parks. IDPR calls them “units” of Thousand Springs State Park.
Even this nifty IDPR poster created by Boise artist Ward Hooper shows only 27 state parks, which is off from the “official” count of 30 in statute. Why? Well, they didn’t bother creating a logo for Mowry or Veterans because see above. And—I’m just speculating here—they didn’t order a logo for Glade Creek State Park because of the nature of the place. Glade Creek, on Lolo Pass, was where Lewis and Clark first made camp in what would become Idaho. IDPR manages the site as a natural area and doesn’t encourage use other than brief visits to the interpretive overlook. So, you do the math!

Dorthy Johnson

Largely because of the activities of the now defunct Aryan Nations, there is a lingering perception nationally that Idaho is not a place that welcomes diversity. Statistically, it is not a very diverse state. According to the Census Bureau, African-Americans made up just .06% of the state during the most recent census in 2010. It was about the same in 1964, when an African-American woman from Pocatello was chosen as Miss Idaho.
Yes, right in the middle of the civil rights movement, Idaho sent a woman of color to the Miss USA pageant. Nineteen-year-old Dorthy Johnson was not the first African-American woman to compete in the pageant. That distinction went to Corinne Huff who served as an alternate for Miss Ohio in 1960. But Johnson was the first African-American semi-finalist in the pageant.
There have since been six African-American winners of the pageant, since. The first was Carole Gist, Miss Michigan, in 1990.
Idaho’s Dorthy Johnson would go on to become an award-winning educator. She was the Los Angeles Reading Association’s Teacher of the Year in 1992, listed in Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, and nominated for the Disney Teacher of the Year Award in 2002. Dorthy Johnson LeVels passed away in the town where she was born, Pocatello, in April 2017.

The Swinging Bridge

Picnickers from Spokane used to take a train to Coeur d’Alene, then catch a paddlewheel steamboat to Heyburn State Park in the early part of the 20th Century. This shot on the left shows the swinging railroad bridge in action, letting a steamboat through into the park.
This is the same swinging bridge today, though it doesn’t swing anymore. Engineers raised it high enough to let sailboats beneath it when Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes was built in about 2004. The 72-mile trail goes from Plummer to Mullan on the old railroad bed. It’s paved all the way, including this section that goes across the lake and the old swinging bridge in Heyburn State Park.
For more Idaho state parks history, read Images of America, Idaho State Parks by Rick Just. Now available online and in your local bookstore.

Joe Albertson

When Joe Albertson started working for the Safeway chain of supermarkets, he may have dreamed of owning the store someday. In a sense, he ended up owning the store and the Safeway chain.
From the time he attended the College of Idaho, graduating in 1925, all Joe Albertson wanted was to be a grocer. He worked for Safeway, a chain that started in Idaho, for several years, then borrowed $7,500 from his aunt and matched that with $5,000 of his own savings to start his own grocery store on State Street in Boise. That was in 1939. Joe added a store and another and another until he had a string of Albertsons stores. It was a well-known chain throughout the West when he died in 1993.
Albertsons all but disappeared for a time after his death, but former employees of the company reorganized under the Albertsons name in 2006. The company is a now a retail giant, reportedly the fastest growing retailer in May, 2017 (see link at the bottom of this post).
Joe Albertson would probably be proud that the company he started now owns the company he first worked for, Safeway, as well as many others. Perhaps he's best remembered, though, for his philanthropy. The two best examples are his donation of Katheryn Albertson Park in Boise, and the Albertson Foundation, which still gives millions to Idaho projects, particularly in the field of education.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The River Between the Lakes

This is Idaho’s famous “River Between the Lakes” in Heyburn State Park. It is and isn’t a natural feature. Prior to installation of the Post Falls Dam in 1908, Hidden, Round, Benewah, and Chatcolet were individual lakes, except during high water when they merged with the larger Lake Coeur d’Alene. The dam holds the lake at is high-water level, so the St. Joe River, which winds between the southern lakes, has now all but disappeared, leaving just a thin strip of bank on either side through Heyburn State Park.
For more Idaho state parks history, read Images of America, Idaho State Parks by Rick Just. Now available online and in your local bookstore.

Early Mail Delivery in Idaho

One of the most frustrating problems facing early settlers was the lack of a dependable mail system.
Getting letters to friends and family in other areas of the country was often a matter of luck. Whenever early settlers met a packer or some unhappy emigrant heading back east, they grabbed the opportunity to send mail with them, often composing letters on the spot.
One early-day traveler through Idaho, a man named Wakeman Bryant, described such an incident:
"We met ... a party of trappers, some of whom intended to return to the states. They were carrying mail back, receiving 50 cents a letter. They had some thousands of letters. I stopped long enough to write two, and committed them to their charge."
Often, pioneers had no choice but to leave their precious mail at a trading post, with no more than a hope that someone would come along to carry the letters east.
By the 1860s, the federal government was awarding postal contracts to private entrepreneurs. But it wasn't until the highways linking all parts of Idaho were finally finished, that mail service became dependable.
Nobody knows how much mail was lost during the early days of Idaho. One thing seems sure, though. At 49 cents per letter today, the system is vastly improved from the days when a stranger going east was the mailman.

Harmon Killebrew

Today's feature is about the only Idaho-born baseball player ever to make it to the Hall of Fame, Harmon Killebrew.
When the major league scouts hear about a boy playing semi-pro baseball with an .847 batting average, they take notice. In 1954 several teams sent scouts to watch a 17-year-old from Payette, Idaho play ball. The scout from the Washington Senators watched the kid come up to the plate 12 times. He struck out once, hit four singles and doubles, three triples, and four home runs.
The scout couldn't wait to get the signature of Harmon Killebrew on a $30,000 contract.
Over the years, hundreds of fans have sought that signature too, on programs and baseballs. Idaho's Harmon Killebrew was, quite simply, a phenomenal baseball player.
In 1959, during his first full year with the Senators, he tied the home run record for the season. He eventually slugged away 573 homers in his career. In the American league that was second only to Babe Ruth in his time. He spent 13 seasons in the top ten.
Killebrew, who played first and third base, was the premier home run hitter in the 60s and 70s, leading his league six times. In 1984, the Payette native was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.