Skip to main content

Many newcomers, – and even native Idahoans often ask- Why isn’t the Sawtooth National Recreation Area a national park?

Early 20th Century ideas

Even in the early 1900s, various Idaho groups pushed for a national park in central Idaho.  By 1960 all western states except Idaho had one, and many folks felt the Sawtooths were deserving of a national park status. While some groups managed to get the discussion to Congress, ultimately their efforts were shut down. 

The largest opposition came from miners, loggers, ranchers, and home developers. Subdivisions were already beginning to appear. Existing structures at Pettit Lake are reminders of the development that was quickly becoming part of the Sawtooth National Forest landscape at the time.  On the other hand, national park status would impact and possibly restrict recreationists a bit too much for many Idaho residents and would result in the federal acquisition of private ranch land. 

However, a very different political landscape existed back then which included increasing awareness of environmental issues, and the need to balance the lifestyles of local residents. Politicians listened to what the people were saying and worked to find a compromise. Protecting lands was not a Democratic or Republican issue- it was very much a bipartisan issue for many residents. 

A Compromise from both sides

In the end, a compromise was found by forming the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA). The area would be made up of the Sawtooth Wilderness, Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness, and the Hemingway-Boulders Wildernesses. The 756,000 acres area would allow the grazing of livestock, hunting, fishing, and harvesting of timber, and mining of claims that predate the NRA- all ways of life for many Idaho residents. The 1972 formation of the SNRA would also provide the protection the area needed from large mining companies and housing developments. 

While a national park would have meant increased environmental and wildlife protection, the appeal of striking a balance between Idaho residents and preservation came from it not becoming a park and the creation of an area for multiple uses instead. 

A passion for protection

The Sawtooth Society would be formed 25 years later by a group of individuals passionate about protecting Idaho public lands, forests, and enhancing recreation facilities. We look forward to many more years working with the U.S. Forest Service and other organizations to preserve, protect, and enhance the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

Leave a Reply