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Lake Pend Oreille

lake pend oreilleIf you were a Girl Scout in 1964, you might have gone to the National Girl Scout Roundup at Farragut State Park on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced pond-o-ray), the largest lake in Idaho. That was the year the Idaho legislature created the park. Three years later, the Boy Scouts arrived--17,000 of them--for the World Boy Scout Jamboree. Another Boy Scout jamboree in 1969 drew 42,000 participants. It's an unusual state park and an unusual lake that can cater to that many exuberant young visitors all at one time.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. Navy began immediately to build naval support facilities in the continental USA. One of these was Farragut Naval Training Center, a huge facility built on the south shore of Lake Pend Oreille. Its inland location and general anonymity outside of Idaho were obvious assets when West Coast locations were vulnerable in a sea war.

lake pend oreilleFarragut grew rapidly and was operating within a few months. By September 1942, the population of 55,000 at the camp made it, in effect, the largest city in Idaho at the time. The training center was organized into six self-contained camps, each with its own barracks, parade ground, swimming pool, and rifle range, among other features. The hospital had beds for 2,500 patients. German prisoners of war eventually arrived and did the gardening and general maintenance.

Each camp accommodated 5,000 sailors at a time, passing them through their training in two or three months. The men learned to rig boats, handle lifeboats, manage gas masks, suppress fires, and shoot rifles and other firearms. Liberty trains carried them from the camp to Spokane, Washington, and on lake pend oreilleto their ships. By the time the Navy decommissioned the camp in 1946, nearly 300,000 men had passed through the center.

After the war, the city of Coeur d'Alene and other towns in the region tried to recycle the physical plant as Farragut College and Technical Institute, but the effort failed to take hold and closed in 1949. In 1964, the State of Idaho purchased the land and converted it to Farragut State Park. Since then it has attracted such activities as national and international scouting jamborees.

Lake Pend Oreille is the largest and deepest in Idaho--43 miles long and a quarter of a mile deep in at least one spot on the south end of the lake. The lake is a gift to Idaho from the age of Pleistocene glaciers. Geologists think the ice mass lying over the valley once exceeded a depth of 6,000 feet. That it is beautiful golake pend oreillees without saying, surrounded as it is by the conifer forests of the Selkirk Mountains on the north, the Coeur d'Alenes on the south, and the Cabinets to the east.

Amongst the visitors to the city of Sandpoint, the anglers, the boaters, the hikers, the campers, the waterskiers, and the hardy transplants from the big cities who appreciate the fact that "there is no layer of fuzz" hanging in the air, the Navy is still a member of the community. It runs the David W. Taylor research center conducting classified research on certain kinds of submarines in the depths of the lake. And that's all we know about it.

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