Farragut was perfect for the Navy because of Lake Pend Oreille. The second base would be on a lake, too, but it wasn’t the lake that made the site “perfect.” M.S. Benedict, Targhee National Forest Supervisor at the time, was quoted as saying, “The weather is severe with sub-zero temperatures for most of the winter. The area has about 4 feet of snow and the many slopes in the area are ideal for training ski troops. There is mountainous country, too, which could be used for toughening soldiers.” Benedict also counted the “high velocity winds (that) sweep across the area” as a plus.
The War Department was looking for a place to train troops who would be experts at skiing and winter survival.
A 100,000-acre site surrounding Henrys Lake just a few miles from West Yellowstone, Montana was selected for the training center. The camp would host 35,000 troops and cost some $20 million to build.
The State of Idaho was on board with the plan. Gov. Chase Clark revealed that the Idaho Transportation Department had ordered a huge new rotary snow plow to keep the roads in the area of the proposed base open.
Construction contracts were let in 1941 and buildings started going up for the new base. Foundations and vaults appeared and the structures began to take shape.
Almost immediately the Army Quartermaster began to question much about the project from high rates paid for rental vehicles to confusion and a lack of direction for the construction.
When that “perfect” winter weather hit, all construction ceased. In the spring of 1942 salvageable materials were hauled off and demolition equipment was moved in to bring down the bones of the buildings.
The country was at war, so why the Army did what it did was kept secret. Did contractor issues kill the base so quickly? That seems unlikely.
Thomas Howell, who lives in Ashton, has done considerable research on this subject, and it is from his website where I obtained the information for this short piece. Howell has a theory that it was trumpeter swans that killed the base, and he provides some compelling information to back that up. There were only 140 adults and 69 cygnets in the Lower 48 at that time mostly at Montana’s Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the Railroad Ranch in Island Park (now Harriman State Park). Wildlife enthusiasts were not wild about the idea of introducing men shooting artillery into trumpeter swan habitat.
I urge you to read more about this on Tom’s site, and see the pictures of remaining foundations and other (pardon the pun) concrete evidence of the ill-fated base that can still be seen today near Henrys Lake State Park.