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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Irwin

Friday, February 10, 2017  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Aerial View of Irwin

Irwin is located in picturesque Swan Valley below the beautiful 16,100-acre Palisades Reservoir on the Snake River. The city is nestled between two mountain ranges that are part of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

The Snake River Range lies on the western edge of the city and flows along the west side of the city. The Caribou Range lies to the west. The reservoir and mountains provide a stunning setting for the city.

Historical Tidbits

For generations, Bannock and Shoshone Native American Indian Tribes migrated through the area.

In 1879 cattlemen began to settle in the Swan Valley, named for thousands of nesting Trumpeter swans that migrated to the valley each year.

Two families, the Ross and Higham brothers, ran over 1,000 head of cattle. They settled on the eastern side of the Snake River where their cattle grazed for free on the lush meadows and hillsides.

However, crossing the river was treacherous. In 1885 the Higham Brothers built a ferry.

Within a few years, sheep ranchers from Nevada and Utah brought their sheep herds to the valley for summer grazing. Cattlemen had no use for sheep. Sheep competed for the limited supply of grass. When sheep grazed, they ate the grass down to the crown of the roots, thus largely preventing further grazing until the next season.

In a desperate move to stop the sheep from crossing the river, the cattle ranchers destroyed the Higham Ferry. Sheep have a natural aversion to swimming because the water saturates the wool and can cause them to drown.

The conflicts between the cattlemen and the sheep men were generally resolved beginning in 1905 when the federal government adopted a grazing policy of federal lands. The policy restricted the number of animal units in any given location by requiring grazing permits and fees. In 1934 Congress further strengthened the policy with passage of the Taylor Grazing Act.

On July 4, 1957, Irwin became an incorporated village.

Effects of Palisades Dam

In 1951 the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began constructing the 270-foot-high and 2,100-foot-wide earth-fill Palisades Dam, seven miles southeast of Irwin. They completed the dam in 1957.

Construction of Palisades Dam changed life in different ways. First, it substantially reduced the risk of spring flooding. Second, as an increasing number of motorists came to take advantage of the lake’s recreational opportunities, traffic through the city increased. The increased traffic flow through Irwin is providing opportunities for tourism and hospitality businesses to develop.

Amenities and Attractions Today

Irwin has one city park. The park is three acres in size and includes open areas for community gatherings, reunions, picnics and ballgames.

Each July and September at his ranch in Irwin, one of the city’s community leaders, Daryl Ricks, hosts a professionally managed rodeo, called the Swan Valley Rodeo.

The city’s most significant amenity is its location. Irwin lies in a beautiful outdoor paradise. The area offers many opportunities to float, fish, camp, hunt, hike, trail ride, cross-country ski, snowmobile, snowshoe and generally enjoy the great outdoors.

As part of the Yellowstone ecosystem, the area is home to some of the largest elk and Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep herds in the country. White tail and mule deer, moose, bear, mountain lions and mountain goats also abound. The South Fork of the Snake River is one of the premier dry-fly fisheries in North America. Bird enthusiasts enjoy watching the Trumpeter swans, sand hill cranes and many others species of birds.

Jackson Hole, home of the Grand Teton National Park and the world-famous Grand Teton Mountain Range, and adjoining Yellowstone National Park are a short drive over majestic mountain passes.

Many river rafters board rafts at Irwin to float down the South Fork of the Snake River through an imposing canyon where towering spruce, pine and fir trees provide perches for bald eagles.

The picturesque Palisades Reservoir with evergreen forests lining the shore extends southeast through mountain canyons into Wyoming. The lake is a popular fishing and boating destination. Due to fluctuating water levels in the reservoir, the best fishing occurs during spring, fall and winter seasons. Cutthroat trout, both wild and stocked; brown trout; Kokanee; and mackinaw are abundant in the reservoir. Ice fishing on Palisades Reservoir can be some of the best fishing of the year. Not only are winter trout great to eat, but the beauty of the area is enhanced by the snow and ice. Access to the reservoir is best on the side nearest Irwin.

A few miles to the east of Irwin are Upper and Lower Palisades Lakes. These small lakes formed by landslides in the mountains near Irwin are popular with hikers, campers and sportsmen who enjoy the trails that follow the creeks up to the lakes.

Idaho Highway 26 through Irwin and along the reservoir is one of Idaho’s most scenic routes.

For skiing enthusiasts, there are several nearby resorts. Kelly Canyon Ski Area is 34 miles northwest. Grand Targhee Ski Resort is 40 miles north just across the Idaho/Wyoming border. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is 49 miles away.


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