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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Swan Valley

Friday, May 18, 2018  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Swan Valley

The city of Swan Valley and the valley that bears the same name are in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest a mile east of the South Fork of the Snake River. The river is an exceptional cutthroat and brown trout fly-fishing stream that attracts anglers from throughout the region.

The Snake River Mountain Range, with peaks rising to over 10,000 feet, lies on the western edge of the city. The Caribou Range, with peaks rising to over 9,000 feet, is to the west and southwest.

Fertile irrigated farmland, interspersed by forestland, surrounds the city and fills the narrow valley. The beautiful 16,100-acre Palisades Reservoir, created by the Palisades Dam on the South Fork of the Snake River, is 10 miles southeast of the city.

Idaho Falls is located 45 miles northwest. The Idaho/Wyoming border is 15 miles due east. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is 47 miles away.

Historical Tidbits

For generations, nomadic American Indians—primarily of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes—migrated through Swan Valley to their seasonal encampments.

In 1879 cattlemen began to settle in the valley, which they named "Swan Valley" after the Whistling Swans that came each year to nest in the valley marshes.

Two of these families, the Ross and Higham brothers grazed over 1,000 head of cattle on meadowlands east of the Snake River.

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, moving their animals across the river on the ferry. Cattlemen fiercely resisted the introduction of sheep onto the public grazing lands. They contended that the sheep ate the grass closer to the ground, leaving little grass for cattle.

In a desperate move to isolate the eastern meadowlands from the sheep, the cattlemen destroyed the Higham Ferry. Even though crossing the river was treacherous, cattle would ford the river but sheep would not. Sheep have a natural aversion to swimming because the water saturates their wool and can cause them to sink and drown.

While strained, the conflicts between the cattlemen and the sheep men did not result in bloodshed as it did in some parts of Idaho.

In 1905 Congress intervened by adopting a grazing policy for federal rangelands. 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 the passage of the Taylor Grazing Act.

Swan Valley first became an incorporated village, and in 1967 with a change in Idaho law, became a city.

Palisades Dam

In 1957 the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation completed construction of the earthen 270-foot-high and 2,100-foot-wide Palisades Dam.

Construction of Palisades Dam and Reservoir has had a major impact on the city as it substantially reduced the risk of spring flooding and attracts thousands of outdoor enthusiasts. They come to enjoy the natural beauty of the area and the diversity of recreation opportunities. Tourism and outdoor recreation industries now underpin the city’s economy.

Amenities and Attractions Today

The city is home to the historic Snake River Ranger Station—the U.S. Forest Service area headquarters that began in 1908, was expanded by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The city’s most significant amenity is its beautiful mountain location near crystal-clear streams and reservoirs. 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 swans, sand hill cranes and many others species of birds.

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

Many river rafters board rafts at Swan Valley 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. Cutthroat, Brown and Mackinaw Trout and Kokanee Salmon are abundant in the reservoir. Ice fishing on the reservoir is popular, not only for catching fish but also for witnessing the spectacular beauty of the snow-covered landscape.

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

For skiing enthusiasts, there are several nearby resorts. Kelly Canyon Ski Area is 30 miles northwest. Grand Targhee Ski Resort is 36 miles north, just across the Idaho/Wyoming border.

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