AIC Shines its Community Spotlight on Ririe
Friday, May 6, 2016
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Blacktail Park on Ririe Reservoir.
Ririe lies on the eastern edge of the upper Snake River Plain. Fields of potatoes, wheat, barley, alfalfa hay and corn form a mosaic of shapes, color and texture around the city.
The Caribou-Targhee National Forest and the foothills of the Caribou Mountain Range begin a few miles southeast of the city. Four miles south is the 1,560-acre Ririe Lake and the 31,000-acre Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area. The Snake River flows two miles to the north.
The 6,600-foot-high Kelly Mountain and the Kelly Canyon Ski Resort are located 10 miles east of town. Rexburg is 12 miles north, Idaho Falls 15 miles southwest.
Before the first explorers/trappers began traveling into what is now Eastern Idaho, nomadic American Indians—principally of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes—occupied the land of the Upper Snake River Plain. The Gros Ventre and Blackfoot Indians of the northern plains also made periodic excursions into the area.
In 1810 Captain Andrew Henry led the first party of explorers/trappers into the region. About 20 miles north of what is now Ririe, his party built a log stockade and shelter that they named Fort Henry. They spent the winter at the fort and trapped for beaver. In the spring, they moved on.
In October 1811 the Wilson Price Hunt party stayed at the deserted Fort Henry for two weeks while they built canoes with which they unwisely hoped to navigate the Snake River to the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. When the canoes reached the treacherous rapids near what is now Twin Falls, they had a fatal accident and loss of supplies. They determined the river route impossible, abandoned their canoes and completed their harrowing journey on foot.
In 1841 the first immigrants to Oregon’s Willamette Valley passed through Soda Springs, about 60 miles south of what is now Ririe.
In 1843 Captain John C. Fremont, a topographical engineer, led a surveying expedition that mapped much of the West. Oregon Trail immigrants used Fremont’s maps, published by Congress, in establishing the Oregon Trail and certain cutoffs from the main trail.
In 1863 prospectors discovered placer gold in what is now western Montana—then part of Idaho Territory. Stagecoach and freight wagon traffic began moving passengers, food and supplies from northern Utah to the Montana gold fields on a pioneer wagon road they named the "Idaho Gold Road."
The road generally paralleled what is now I-15, crossing the Continental Divide at Monida Pass and then on to the Montana boomtowns of Virginia City, Butte and Garrison—a distance of 466 miles between Ogden, Utah, and Garrison, Montana.
In 1878 the Utah and Northern Railroad Company built a rail line that generally paralleled the Gold Road. The railroad made long-haul stagecoach and freight wagon businesses obsolete.
Many of the railroad construction workers were men from Utah. They were impressed with the Upper Snake River Plain soil that produced sagebrush as tall as a man riding a horse.
When these men returned to their families in Utah, many made plans to return and settle in Eastern Idaho.
In 1881 the Oregon Short Line Railroad (OSL) began constructing a rail line that began at Granger, Wyoming; angled in a northwesterly direction through Soda Springs, Pocatello, Shoshone and Caldwell; before connecting to the rail line in Huntington, Oregon. The rail line, completed November 17, 1884, provided the necessary link to connect Southern Idaho with the commerce centers of Omaha, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon.
At that time, the population of Utah was swelling with a stream of immigrant converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church) (also known as Mormons). When news of the settlement potential of the Upper Snake River Plain reached northern Utah, several more families began preparing to go there. The railroad played an important role in transporting these homesteaders.
In 1882 Church leaders asked 54-year-old Thomas E. Ricks to be the ecclesiastical leader (Bishop) of the immigrant settlers going to the Rexburg area. Ricks, a Kentuckian, joined the Church in 1844 and in 1848 was part of the Mormon exodus from Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah.
In January 1883 Ricks led the first party of settlers to the Rexburg area. One of Ricks’ counselors was William F. Rigby, an emigrant convert from Saddleworth, England. Rigby immediately went to work building sawmills to provide lumber for the growing number of settlers.
Ricks named his new ecclesiastical jurisdiction, consisting of several new communities, Bannock Ward—later to become a stake (diocese) with several wards, each led by a bishop. By the end of 1883 Church records listed 815 members over the age of eight living in the Bannock Ward. By the end of 1884 the number had increased to 1,420.
As the settlers arrived, they immediately built shelters, filed their homestead claims, cleared and leveled the land for irrigation, banded together to build irrigation canals and ditches and diverted Snake River water into the canals. Over the succeeding few years, their complex system of irrigation canals and ditches provided water to area farms. They converted dry sagebrush-covered land into a fertile agricultural oasis.
In 1888 David Ririe—a young single man who had moved from Utah—filed a homestead claim near what is now Ririe, built a cabin and began developing his farm.
Three years later, the Joseph Lovell family established a homestead on adjacent land. However, that winter Joseph died, leaving his family destitute. David helped the widow Lovell and her children establish their home and farm. Both farms were successful. David married Leah Ann, one of the Lovell daughters, and built a large stone home. This historic home still stands and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Over the succeeding years, more families settled in the general area. They called their community Shelton. In 1899 railroad interests built a rail line from Idaho Falls, through Rexburg, to St Anthony. In 1914 railroad interests built a second rail line from Idaho Falls to St Anthony. However, this line passed near Shelton and extended into the farm areas located several miles east of the St. Anthony railroad built in 1899.
David Ririe played an important role in getting landowners to sell or grant rights-of-way to the railroad. When the railroad came, officials platted a town and built a station at Shelton. However, they named the Depot and town "Ririe" in recognition of David’s assistance. A year later, postal authorities approved the Ririe Post Office. Shelton residents and businesses immediately changed their mailing addresses to Ririe.
On January 20, 1917, Ririe became an incorporated village.
Cash Crops—Potatoes and Sugar Beets
Agriculture and food processing have underpinned the city’s economy for most of the past century. The area’s volcanic-based soils are particularly suited for producing potatoes of exceptional quality. From 1903 to 1978 a sugar factory operated in Lincoln, 11 miles southwest of Ririe. While the factory operated, sugar beets gave farmers the attractive cash-crop rotation option.
Technological innovations have allowed farmers and food processors to improve productivity with fewer employees. These changes and the increased skill level required of workers have changed the economies of the agriculture industry and the city. Many outlying farms are undergoing consolidation and the need for fewer employees.
Amenities and Attractions Today
BYU-Idaho sponsors many public concerts, plays and recitals as well as opening many of its athletic facilities to the public. The University’s influence enhances the cultural and social wellbeing of Ririe citizens.
The Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area includes parts of Ririe Lake—an irrigation and flood control reservoir created by Ririe Dam—and collects water from tributary streams, provides habitat for upland and migratory birds and winter range for thousands of migratory elk, mule deer and moose. Idaho Fish and Game manages the Area and oversees public visits and viewing of the animals.
Ririe Lake is a favorite for fishing, boating and camping. However, by late summer, irrigation demands draw down the lake. One park, Juniper Park Campground, is located near the dam at the north end of the lake. Blacktail Park and Boat Dock is at the south end of the lake.
About 36 miles southeast is the picturesque 270-foot-high Palisades Dam and Reservoir on the Snake River. Evergreen forests line the reservoir’s shoreline, extending over 15 miles southeast into Wyoming.
Ririe residents enjoy the city’s close proximity to public lands, rivers and lakes. Many take advantage of the area’s excellent fishing, hunting, camping and boating opportunities. In the warmer months, there are extensive hiking and biking trails, some open to ATV riding. In the winter, there are snowmobiling, Nordic skiing and ice fishing on Palisades Reservoir.