JEROME — Development of the landlocked Snake River Canyon Park north of the river may be delayed if the county can’t get the Idaho Department of Lands on board.
Time is running out for Jerome County to apply for Idaho Parks and Recreation grants to develop the park, said Ryan Lay, a land consultant working with the county. This round of grant applications are due in January.
No physical barriers block entrance to the 4,000-acre park, but in order to fund and develop the park, Jerome County needs to secure legal access to the property, which can only be reached by way of endowment land owned by the IDL. That’s land currently used for cattle grazing to produce income for public schools.
The park is a 6.25-square-mile block of land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management north of the Snake River — roughly from the canyon rim to Interstate 84 and from U.S. 93 to near Devils Corral. The park has been a possibility since Jerome County signed lease agreements with the BLM in 2003 and 2007, but locals have been talking about building a north rim park for decades.
The state’s endowment land is a narrow strip between the canyon’s north rim and the park. The only paved road through the area is the east/west Shoshone Falls Road that runs from U.S. 93 through IDL ground to Idaho Power Co.’s hydroelectric plant at the falls. The park, formerly called the North Rim Park, also includes a landlocked 20-acre parcel owned by the BLM overlooking Shoshone Falls.So far, the IDL has tentatively granted the county access to BLM land south of the interstate, but has not granted access to the 20 acres at the canyon rim, where the county would like to see a scenic overlook built.
“IDL has come to an agreement with BLM regarding two easements for access,” spokeswoman Sharla Arledge told the Times-News in an email. “As I am sure you are aware our priority and constitutional responsibility is to do what is best for the endowment beneficiaries. What has been proposed for a third access (to the overlook) has not been in the endowment’s best interest, however, we are still in discussion, trying to find a solution that works.”
Commissioner Roger Morley is befuddled by the IDL’s stand on the overlook site.
“I take constitutional responsibility very seriously,” Morley said, “but I can’t see how granting access to the overlook site would violate the IDL’s mission.”
For decades, the public land north of the Snake River has been more of a liability than an asset. The commissioners say developing the park would change that.
A 42-year-old letter from then-Sheriff Elza Hall asked the IDL for help “dealing with the many abuses and misuses of the state land,” Lay said. According to the sheriff, the land had become dangerous dumping grounds where bikers terrorized cattle grazing in the area.
“Clearly all of the abuses still exist on the north rim,” Lay said.
Recently a stray bullet hit a Jerome woman’s car as she was driving with her children on Shoshone Falls Road, Morley said as he held a photo of the bullet hole.
Recreational shooting and hunting allowed on the state endowment land make it unsafe, Commissioner Charlie Howell said. He’s personally experienced near misses as bullets have flown by him on the IDL property.
“It’s dangerous to all people around,” Howell said, who met with the IDL last winter to try to curtail shooting on state land. The county’s park would allow shooting in a safe, secluded area away from others using the land.
Howell plans to make another appeal to the IDL this week and will send photos of mounds of litter in the desert, children riding bicycles near a target shooter — and of the bullet hole in the car — to plead his case.
“Granting us access would create a safe zone” for recreation, Morley said, “and a better environment for cattle grazing.”