When I say it isn’t a park, I’m talking about a government designation. Although there are two state parks within the Island Park area, Harriman and Henrys Lake. If you prefer a definition for “park” that broadly describes an area left largely in its natural state, you’re probably closer to the meaning those who named it had in mind. No, we don’t know who named it.
But, where did “island” come from? There are a few theories on this. In the earliest days of Idaho history there were apparently large mats of reeds and foliage floating on Henrys Lake. The name might have come from those. Another theory is that the “islands” referred to the open meadows in the otherwise heavily forested area. Yet a third theory is just the opposite. That one holds that the “islands” were islands of timber on the sagebrush plain. This is the one that Lalia Boone, author of Idaho Place Names, seems to prefer, since it came from Charlie Pond, one of the early lodge owners in the area.
So, we don’t have a definitive answer about where the name came from, but we know how the town of Island Park came about. In the late 1940s local lodge owners wanted to serve liquor to their customers. Idaho law allowed liquor licenses to be awarded only to establishments within an incorporated city. Changing the law would be difficult given strong religious influences on the Legislature, so the lodge owners created a town.
Island Park is unique in its dimensions, running some 33 miles end-to-end along US 20, but having a width of only 500 feet for much of its length. That weird shape pulled in the lodges and enough people to call it a town. Those people sometimes claim that they have the world’s longest “Main Street.” Whether that is true is probably open to debate. Maybe you’d be interested in a bar bet on it? That’s something you can do at certain establishments in the thriving community of Island Park.