Senator Heyburn and the Northwest's First State Park

In 1908 Heyburn State Park became the Idaho's first state park and the first in the entire Pacific Northwest. Senator Weldon Heyburn pushed to create a national park in Idaho, but had to settle on a state park. Heyburn State Park developed and grew with the region, .creating a local and regional recreation spot for people to enjoy.

When Senator Weldon Heyburn begain dreaming of a new national park in Idaho, the General Allotment Act of 1877 had recently opened up a large swatch of land. After this Act, members of the Coeur d’ Alene Indian Tribe people each received 160 acres of land, and the rest would be divided among homesteaders. Since the land was Indian land, Congress got involved. In 1907 Heyburn introduced two bills aimed at creating a national park in Idaho. But both stalled in the House Committee on Indian Affairs. A second bill passed after a word change without Heyburn’s knowledge. The wording changed the park from a national park to a state park, allowing Idaho to buy land. Heyburn strongly opposed the idea of a state park, stating, “I do not believe in creating a park that shall be the property of the state…They are always a subject of political embarrassment.” Despite his opposition, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill into law on April 30, 1908.

After the formation, Heyburn State Park grew to meet the needs of the many visitors. The area was already a local vacation spot with many people renting houseboats for the summer. Local newspapers saw the park creating new opportunities. State Game Warden, Ben Gray, had high hopes for the park, stating, “There is no doubt in my mind but that Heyburn park will become a mecca for pleasure seekers in this state and its reputation will spread throughout the entire northwest.” He shared this vision with Governor James Hawley and George Pickett, who made up the Heyburn State Park commission. They envisioned a place where people could moor their houseboats, fish and hunt, and recreate during the year. A writer for the Idaho Statesman described how great the fishing was in the park, and declared, “The black bass and perch at Heyburn park not only grow to a large size, but are finely flavored, and fishing is therefore one of the main attractions there.” Other newspapers as well reported on the array of recreational opportunities. Plans were underway to create a hotel in the park to draw in more tourists. Not only did people view Heyburn State Park as a place away from the city, but also a good place for healing the sick. A doctor from Washington was interested in building a sanitarium inside the park. During the 1930s, Heyburn State Park underwent several improvement projects by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The project superintendent, Rex Wendle, said that the work done by the men in the CCC transformed the park: “Heyburn State Park was changed from a forest area to a real park by the National Park Service using CCC labor.” They constructed buildings, roads, campgrounds, and brought power to the park.

Heyburn State Park gave the people of Idaho a place to unwind and enjoy the outdoors. The Idaho Statesman again placed high praise on the park, writing, “Thousands of acres of this is fitted for camping purposes. Springs of the purest and coldest water imaginable abound, and there are no snakes and but a few noxious insects. I didn’t see a mosquito." The exaggerated description showed how proud they were to have a state park.