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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Spencer

Friday, February 21, 2020  
Posted by: Payton Grover
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City of Spencer

Spencer lies at the base of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, 15 miles south of the 6,870-foot-high Monida Pass on the Continental Divide and the headwaters of Beaver Creek. To the southwest of the city are vast acreages of public lands managed by the BLM. To the southeast is the 48,000acre United States Sheep Experiment Station. Rexburg, the closest urban center, is 45 miles southeast. Dubois is 15 miles south. Situated in the broad ravine created by Beaver Creek, the land around Spencer has been for centuries a thoroughfare for travelers moving between Eastern Idaho and western Montana. It has been the path used by American Indians, gold miners, stagecoaches and freight wagons. Today, the railroad and Interstate 15 intersect the city which is also the location of the largest known opal gemstone deposit in Idaho.

Historical Tidbits

Years For centuries, nomadic American Indians—principally of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes—occupied the land of the Upper Snake River Plain. In 1810 Captain Andrew Henry led the first party of explorers/ trappers into the region. About 35 miles southeast of what is now Spencer—near what is now St. Anthony—they built a log stockade and shelter, which they named Fort Henry, on the Henrys Fork of the Snake River. 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 unsuccessfully attempted to navigate the Snake River to the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. 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 named the “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. In 1789 the Utah and Northern Railroad Company built a rail line that generally paralleled the Gold Road. The railroad made the stagecoach and freight wagon road obsolete. A few years later, the railroad company built a roundhouse, well, water tower, telegraph office and section house at what is now Dubois. Several men worked at the roundhouse and operated the helper engines used to get the trains over Monida Pass. Fifteen miles up into the mountains, railroad officials built a station they named Spencer after Hiram H. Spencer, a local merchant and customer of the railroad. They platted the town and applied to county officials to make the town an incorporated village. On July 28, 1947, Spencer became an incorporated village.

Amenities and Attractions Today

The opal mine at Spencer is a tourist attraction. Open to the public, rock hounds and other visitors enjoy working the mine. Raw opals and opal jewelry are also available for purchase. Every spring during their mating seasons, the Greater Sage Grouse and the Columbian Short Tail Grouse congregate in sagebrush clearings in what is termed “Leks.” At these times, the male birds perform a ritualistic dance that involves fanning their spike-looking tail feathers and inflating the large air sacks around their necks. In April, the Caribou-Targhee National Forest Dubois Ranger District hosts the annual “Sage Grouse Days” in Dubois. As part of the activities, visitors and wildlife students travel great distances to observe the large wild birds in their Leks and receive information and instruction from district personnel.

Perhaps the most significant attraction for Spencer residents is their close proximity to public lands, rivers and lakes. The area around Spencer offers excellent fishing, hunting, camping and boating opportunities in both Idaho and Montana. Most Forest Service Roads are available for hiking and biking, some for ATV riding and, in the winter months, snowmobiling is popular.

 


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