In The Loop-Monthly Musings from Henrys Lake Foundation

March 2023

Keeping up with growth, can Island Park do it?

Island Park is home to the Henrys Lake Foundation. Our board of directors and members love it for the outdoor recreation, especially the fishing at Henrys Lake. The branding of Highway 20 as the ‘longest main street in America’ provides access to incredible scenery and wildlife at every turn-off. It truly is a sportsman’s paradise.   


For those of us who spend considerable time in Island Park, the landscape is rapidly changing. Yes, we all see the traffic on the highways, but new houses seem to be popping up everywhere, the landfill is almost full, a new market is being built, wildlife roadkill appear more frequently than anyone wants to see, vacation rentals are through the roof, and aging septic systems are going into disrepair. So, where is this all taking us?

As a non-resident of Idaho, I still am very much interested in knowing what the city, county and state are doing to help protect the environment and still manage growth. One key element that has everyone’s attention is the potential changes to the highway in an attempt to alleviate some of the traffic while still giving the local merchants the opportunity to benefit economically from the passing tourists. Talk about a difficult challenge! Even if they are successful, they have only pushed the problem closer to the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park in West Yellowstone. I have been in WY, early morning, when the queue to snake through town and to the gate is jammed with cars, RVs and motorcycles. So, will the Idaho side improvements only exacerbate the congestion on the Montana side?

Imagine being one of the individuals tasked with finding solutions to these problems. These are not easy problems to solve but sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. I do not profess to understand all the nuances of each problem, but can you imagine going to Robin’s Roost for groceries and having to enter or exit Highway 20 via a ramp that is part of an overpass system? That just doesn’t seem like a good solution. Instead, I would propose that a 45 mph speed limit be imposed the entire length of Highway 20 thru Island Park. My pea-brain tells me that it would mitigate the congestion and cut down on accidents and wildlife road kills while not disrupting the local merchants and residents in the process.

The second biggest problem, again for my pea-brain, is the landfill. I for one am adamant about recycling. Do you realize that most every trash pickup service in the IP area does not separate re-cyclable waste from other trash? Yes, I’ve watched the local service in my development and there is nothing but just big 50-gallon trash bags with everything combined in it. Why not mandate that recyclable waste be separated at the source given the incredible unchecked growth in cabin rentals? Remember within the next year or so, our garbage is going to be trucked down the hill, making it more expensive for us not the renters.

The last big problem that my pea-brain sees is water quality. Will there ever be a year, that we don’t have water quality problems at IP Reservoir or Henrys Lake? Again, for me the simplest of solutions, the city should mandate that every septic system be maintained. There needs to be an inspection of all the systems, no matter how long it takes. Some of the systems surrounding Henrys Lake have been in place for decades. I remember going to a couple of open houses and trying to find a clean-out or a tank lid in the yard, none! Imagine that! How are these systems being maintained? This brings to light the need for all homeowners to be diligent in ensuring that their septic system is up to code and functioning properly. 

So, in the end, 3 simple solutions to 3 very difficult problems. Let’s all do our part.

Phil Barker, Director, Henrys Lake Foundation

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