That caught my ear because of the fuzzy origins of the name Island Park in Eastern Idaho. There are a few theories on where the name came from. 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 floating islands. 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.
As I often do, I searched through newspaper archives for early mentions of the name Island Park. There were many, most referring to other places across the country called Island Park. There was an Island Park racecourse in Albany, New York around 1890. There is a Round Island Park also in New York State. There’s a Woodsdale Island Park in Cincinnati. An Island Park Farm in Kentucky was exporting horses to Europe in the late 1800s. And, of course, there is Island Park in St. Anthony, Idaho.
I confess that last one was new to me, and it made me wonder if the name of the region north of St. Anthony had come somehow from that little island off Bridge Street.
After reading the etymology of the word “park” in the Oxford English Dictionary, it occurs to me that some of today’s confusion is about that part of the name. We often think of a park as something developed and managed by a governmental entity. Within the Island Park region, there are two state parks, Henrys Lake and Harriman. So, parks within a park.
The older meaning of the word, and one still used casually today, is something like an outdoor place where the public can recreate. But one of the many definitions and usages caught my eye: “Applied in some parts of the United States, especially Colorado and Wyoming, to a high plateau-like valley among the mountains.”
That definition fits Island Park, which is a plateau flattened by a collapsed caldera. It also sounds a lot like Charlie Pond’s origin story for the name as reported by Lalia Boone.
None of this speculation proves anything, but it helps me better understand a confusing name. It also reminds me of a favorite saying of my late friend and mentor John Freemuth: “God can’t make Wilderness. Only Congress can do that.” Lest you think that blasphemous, John’s point was that from a public lands standpoint “Wilderness” is a designation given by Congress. Similarly, “park” in its official sense is a designation of a governmental entity. That doesn’t stop anyone from referring to a place they love as wilderness or a park.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you about an island in Island Park that came about long after the area got its name