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!