Printed on: February 19, 2014

Island Park citizens discuss national monument designation


ASHTON -- The Island Park area of northern Fremont County is unique.

Its spring-fed streams provide anglers the joy of fish pursuit, and those streams also provide a dependable share of the water supply for downstream irrigators.

Additionally, Island Park is a snowmobile and winter sport destination, as well as a summer mainstay for boaters, campers, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

It also has historic and geographic significance -- the Trail of Tears of the Nez Perce passes through it, as well as the Continental Divide.

"Where the Nation Vacations" has been its motto.

Island Park's fans -- from ranchers to recreationists -- turned up Tuesday in Ashton ready to ask questions and offer opinions at the kickoff of a study on the future of Island Park. The meeting also included presentations defining the unique geological and related hydrological features of the Island Park area.

Talk of creating a national monument is sparking interest in and around Island Park, as well as across the region. In the 1990s, again in the waning hours of the George W. Bush administration and also last year, the Island Park area was mentioned for possible designation as a national monument.

The Henry's Fork Watershed Council's goal is to get as much local comment as possible into the study on Island Park's future.

One after another, speakers talked about the need for public participation in determining the area's future -- even if the national monument designation never happens.

Fremont County commissioned the study, folding it into a larger, federally funded study to develop a "regional plan for sustainable development." The county hired Jan Brown as special projects manager to oversee the study and asked the Watershed Council to provide the forum and distribute information.

Many of the questions raised as the speakers explained perspectives and the area's history expressed concerns about the motivations behind the study.

"What are the threats?" asked Steve Pinther, a contractor who noticed speakers frequently talked about the need to protect the area but discussed no specific threats.

Identifying potential threats to Island Park is one of the aspects of the study, said Steve Woodruff of the National Wildlife Federation. The federation is providing matching funds for the study.

"The threat is if we don't seize this opportunity," Woodruff said.

Under the federal Antiquities Act, presidents have the power to proclaim national monuments with or without public comment and approval.

Jim Caswell, who under the Bush administration helped craft a list of possible national monument sites, including Island Park, said he is not aware of any push today in Washington to designate an Island Park Monument. But he and other speakers indicated that could change.

"It's not some hidden agenda of the Obama administration right now," Caswell said.