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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Warm River

Monday, July 15, 2019  
Posted by: Payton Grover
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City of Warm River

The city of Warm River lies in the Caribou–Targhee National Forest on the banks of the 50-degree fast flowing Warm River and just a few miles east of the river’s confluence with Ashton Reservoir and the famous trout fishery, the Henry’s Fork of the Snake

 River. Idaho Highway 42, the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, borders the city. Mesa Falls and Lower Mesa Falls—designated Unique Natural Features—are on the Henry’s Fork six miles north of the city on Highway 42. With a 2010 Census population of 3, Warm River is the smallest city in Idaho. Its mailing address is a P.O. Box in Ashton, eight miles southwest.

Historical Tidbits

In the early 1800s before the first European and American explorers and trappers began traveling into what is now Eastern Idaho, nomadic Native American Indians— principally of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes—made summer encampments in the land of the Henry’s Fork. 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 area. On a bench of the river about five miles south of what is now St. Anthony, they built a log stockade and shelter, which they named Fort Henry. They spent the winter in their 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 on which they hoped to navigate the Snake River to the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. When they reached what is now Twin Falls, they had a fatal accident and loss of supplies. They determined that the river route was impossible, abandoned their canoes and completed their harrowing journey on foot, as they had unwisely released their horses. Settlement of what is now Eastern Idaho began in the late 1800s, following the discovery of gold in southwestern Montana in the early 1860s and construction of the railroad from Utah to Montana two decades later. Substantially all of this settlement activity occurred south of Warm River. (See Pioneer Settlements—Upper Snake River Plain.)

The first Warm River settlers were emigrants from England, homesteaders who came in 1896 and staked their claims at the bottom of the Warm River Canyon. Entrepreneurs constructed a sawmill near the site of what is now the City of Warm River in 1906. A year later, the railroad line from St. Anthony to the western entrance of Yellowstone National Park reached Warm River. The railroad built a 60-foot turntable at its Warm River siding to turn around locomotives used to push trains over the 6,934-foothigh Reas Pass—Continental Divide—several miles east of Island Park. The station had a 50,000 gallon water tower for servicing the steam engines and stockyards used by the railroad’s agricultural customers. The sawmill would eventually employ 24 and would produce around 20,000 board feet of lumber a day. The rest of the town was also bustling. It had a post office; hospitality businesses including a resort, dancehall, café and bar; a school; and a church. The school served elementary students with two teachers and up to 45 students in first to eighth grades. High school students attended school in Ashton, generally living with extended family or friends. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints started the town’s first church congregation—the Warm River Ward—in 1909. Church membership peaked a few years later as people moved away. It had a membership of 23 families—103 people—in 1914. The first significant improvement to the road through Warm River that would become Idaho Highway 47 started when contracts were let in 1920 to reconstruct the dug way going down into Warm River Canyon and construct a new bridge across the river. During the 1930s the Idaho Department of Fish and Game built a fish hatchery east of Mesa Falls on the Warm River, part of a 1938 federally funded Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) project. The CCC provided local people with employment by building forest roads and fish hatchery facilities. The railroad continued to play a major role in the Warm River economy until 1946 when it moved its operation to Ashton. The fish hatchery closed during the 1950s. The hatchery property is now the Warm River Cabin Campground with the hatchery manager’s house beautifully preserved with wooden bunks and available for public rental. Warm River became an incorporated village on June 9, 1947. Likely in response to a 1947 Idaho law requiring businesses that sold liquor by the drink to have liquor licenses and be located in incorporated municipalities. By incorporating, the city allowed the hospitality businesses in town to continue to sell liquor.

Amenities and Attractions Today

 The city’s principal attraction is its location, natural beauty and fabulous fishing on the Warm River and other nearby streams. Harriman State Park is located about 25 miles northwest of the city and 18 miles north of Ashton. This 11,000-acre, 6,120-foot-high wildlife refuge offers a variety of activities including rental cabins, camping and horseback riding. The Mesa Falls Scenic Byway—Idaho Highway 47—runs through the city. With such nearby attractions as Mesa Falls, Harriman State Park and Warm River Cabin Campground, the city is located in some of the most beautiful natural surroundings in Idaho. It is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.

 


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