Senator Weldon Heyburn, who was notorious for opposing public lands, nevertheless thought Idaho should have a national park. He liked the idea of having one between Plummer and St. Maries at what most people think is the southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene. The area was really three lakes at the time, Benewah, Hidden, and Chatcolet. Heyburn wanted to call the place Chatcolet National Park. Even in 1908, when the proposal passed the U.S. Senate, those lakes would merge with Lake Coeur d’Alene during high water. Construction of the dam at Post Falls made that merging permanent, thus removing the distinction of separate lakes in the minds of many.
Chatcolet was a popular place to recreate in the early part of the Twentieth Century, with picnickers and nature lovers often taking a steamboat to the landing there. The area had long been home to the Coeur d’Alenes, who named it. Chatcolet, according to Lalia Boone’s Idaho Place Names, means “where animals are trapped.”
The Coeur d’Alene reservation was being whittled away to a fraction of its original size when Heyburn proposed a 5,500-acre national park. The bill didn’t make it through the house, but Congress threw Heyburn a bone, agreeing to sell the proposed park site to the State of Idaho. Idaho officials organized enough timber sales on the property to pay for the purchase.
Heyburn hated the idea of state parks, but Idaho named its first state park after him, anyway. Heyburn State Park is the oldest in the Pacific Northwest.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe successfully sued the state for ownership of the bed of Lake Coeur d’Alene several years ago, but in an odd twist, Idaho still owns the lakebeds within the park boundaries.
Heyburn has undergone some major renovations in recent years, including a much-needed sewage disposal system, new trails, and a new park visitor center. Some parts of the park still show signs that this is Idaho’s oldest state park. Yes, it could use some campground and road improvements, but the place is worth a visit. You’ll see right away why Heyburn thought it was worthy of being Chatcolet National Park.