This summer we are celebrating Farragut State Park’s 50th anniversary. Farragut is a beautiful park in the Idaho panhandle near the southern end of Lake Pend Orielle. The lake is 43 miles long and the fifth deepest in the country.
Farragut has four campground areas with varying levels of service, several group campgrounds and day use areas. It has hiking/biking trails, a flier’s field, an equestrian area, a swim beach, a boat launch and disc golf course.
Throughout the park there are remnants of its past as a Naval Training Station. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, and feeling like the San Diego site might be vulnerable, the Navy Commanders felt they needed a temporary inland training facility. They chose this site on Lake Pend Orielle over a site on Lake Tahoe.
The Station was named after the First Admiral of the United States Navy, David Farragut. He is famous for the phrase “Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead” when battling the Confederacy at Mobile Bay.
Built in just over six months, six camps (oval areas on the map above) of 5000 “boots” and support areas were maintained at the station. Named for deceased navy heroes, five were for officers and one for a seaman who perished while saving his shipmates. Almost 300,000 recruits came through Farragut for 5-13 weeks of basic training from 1942 to 1946.
Profiles of some of the men are engraved within the sculpting of this large statue near the Brig.
The Brig, the largest of just a few remaining buildings from the Naval Station, is a National Historic Site and houses the Museum at the Brig. The museum has a variety of exhibits about the naval training station and the men and women (WAVES) who served here.
It also has an exhibit about the German prison camp just outside the station. By report, the Germans felt they were treated very well here – perhaps better than the “boots” themselves. In return, the navy personnel appreciated the improved food options when the German prisoners began serving as cooks.
Towards the end of the World War II, the need for new recruits was diminished. At that time the station’s hospital was expanded and became the largest and best equipped hospital in the northwest serving those with war injuries.
The Farragut Naval Station was decommissioned in 1946. Reunions for those who came through Farragut for service training have been held, most recently in 2008. At the museum, there is a place for those navy personnel to sign in on their camps rolls. A quick look at the rolls today revealed that each camp has had a past serviceman sign in during July, 2015.
The facility was utilized by the Farragut College and Technical Institute from 1946 – 1948.
Taken over by the state of Idaho, it then became the Farragut Wildlife Management Area. The Idaho Department of Parks came into being in 1965 and the area became Farragut State Park.
The footprint of the Naval Station is still visible in aerial shots of Farragut State Park. Several areas, and two of the campgrounds, Gilmore and Waldron, maintain the names of men honored in the original navy station.
Being hosts at the Waldron campground, we were interested in Lieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron. Despite their grim prospects, Commander Waldron led his 15 plane squadron into the Battle of Midway. All 15 were shot down and only one flier survived. He remained loyal to Commander Waldron and his leadership.
As the park was designated in 1965, The Girl Scouts held a Jamboree and tens of thousands of girls attended. They are planning a 50th anniversary jamboree this fall.
Several Boy Scout Jamboree’s have been held here as well, again involving tens of thousands of scouts. The Scouting connection continues.
Due to the budget cuts of the 2008 recession, Idaho State Parks were required to become self supporting. Farragut State Park is the top revenue producing park in the state and sends almost half of its income to support other parks. The recent fire will, unfortunately, put a dent in the monies raised.
The fire is still burning but is considered 100% contained. It will likely smolder until the snow comes. The helicopters and the fire camp are gone and the campers are adjusted to the fire ban. Things are going well now.
We have camped at Farragut a few times over the years and in June 2005, we stayed in site 156.
Today we cleaned that same site, 156. The trees are larger and the landscape is more natural. The ranger position responsible for the grounds was cut in the lean budget years and has never been restored.
We remember the stay here well because our dog, Toby, was so enamored with the chipmunks, squirrels and whistle pigs that he didn’t want to leave. Toby has left us, but the rodents are still around! As will we be until the end of August.