I started out this short series by saying that the Railroad Ranch, which became Harriman State Park of Idaho, was crucial in the formation of Idaho’s state park system.
Gov. Robert E. Smylie (left in the picture) started trying to consolidate Idaho’s parks into a professional agency dedicated to their preservation and management in 1959. The Idaho Legislature was cool to the idea and turned the governor down on several occasions.
Then an opportunity came along that Smylie was quick to recognize. The governor had known E. Roland Harriman (right in the picture) for some time when the co-owner of the Railroad Ranch called.
Harriman and his brother Averell wanted to see the Railroad Ranch protected from development by donating it to the State of Idaho. Governor Smylie saw this as his chance to create a park system. Working mostly with Roland Harriman, the majority owner, Smylie inserted language in the gift deed that Idaho would be required to have a professionally trained park service in place before the transfer of the property was made.
Even with the donation of the Railroad Ranch as a tempting carrot, the 1963 legislature refused Smylie his state parks department, one more time. But they DID gladly accept the donation of the Railroad Ranch, which set things in motion so that the 1965 legislature finally gave Smylie his Idaho Department of Parks.
The donation was worth millions. The Idaho Department of Parks used that donation to match federal money in the Land and Water Conservation Fund to make other significant park improvements across the state.
So, in a way, Harriman State Park of Idaho, which didn’t open to the public until 1982, was the real beginning of the state park system in 1965.
By the way, the official name of the park is Harriman State Park of Idaho. That’s to distinguish it from Harriman State Park in New York. Same family. Same generosity.