U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Curlew National Grassland


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Grassland Information

The Curlew National Grassland, comprised of 47,000 acres and interspersed with private land, is located in southern Idaho on the Utah northern border. It is administered by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. There is one developed campground and it meets the selection criteria.

The areas now designated as "grasslands" were settled in the 1800s under a variety of "Homestead Acts" that opened the land to people, generally farmers, and helped to settle the west. A prolonged period of drought in the late 1920s into the 1930s caused some homesteads on sub-marginal farmland (a location receiving 15 or less inches of annual moisture) to literally dry up and blow away. During this time, Congress established the Land Utilization Program (LUP) which bought homesteads from bankrupt private owners and returned it to public land status. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helped to stabilize the eroding soil by re-seeding it and applying other conservation techniques. In the 1950s, the LUP holdings were assigned to the USDA Forest Service which was tasked with management of these sub-marginal lands. Over the years the Forest Service has established some twenty National Grasslands. "The designation of the area as National Grassland is not a description of the area as much as a statement of policy and effort to restore the area to a multiple of uses and benefits."

The Curlew National Grassland (NG) is a checker board of public and private land stretching from Snowville, Utah, northward into Idaho across a wide valley that was once the bottom of the ancient Bonneville Lake. The Lake is long gone but the shoreline can still be seen on the hillsides that surround the NG. Long after the Bonneville Lake disappeared, the People of the Bannock and Shoshone nations hunted buffalo and deer in the valley. In 1869, with the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the valley was opened to cattle ranching. Overgrazing and extreme winter weather halted the growth of big cattle operations in the valley. By 1889, sagebrush began to dominate the valley floor and, without the rich, lush native grass, much of the wild game left.

With the cattle operations departure, farmers began to homestead the area. At one time there was one farm on every 160 acre parcel of land. Most of the farmers could only manage marginal success and by the 1930s, between several years of drought, lower prices for farm goods and the Depression, most of the homesteaders were near bankruptcy. The Federal government stepped in and purchased several thousands acres which became the Curlew NG.

The Forest Service is working to return the Curlew NG to what it was before the cattle, sagebrush and farmer era while still being a resource to the local economy. Today, the area's ranchers graze, under permit, some 21,000 head of cattle on the Grassland. While it may look arid and desolate, the Forest Service practices help support a variety of birds and wildlife that provide hunting opportunities.

Just a few minutes off I-84 and miles away from stress and strain is the Stone Reservoir with its little Curlew campground. Stone Reservoir was built more than a hundred years ago by the local farmers and ranchers to hold water used to irrigate their lands. It still does today but it also provides a lovely little oasis of serenity. If you are a bird watcher, a few days in Curlew campground will be a delight. Canoe enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the reservoir's irregular shoreline for hidden surprises and anglers will thrill at the fight in the Largemouth bass found in the lake.

Interested in history? Take your 4-wheel vehicle out and look for old homesteads or cemeteries - remember to be respectful of both. If you find any artifacts, please take only photographs and report your discovery to the Forest Service.

Don't look for "big" city attractions in the Curlew NG. Snowville, UT is about the closest thing to that and "groceries" are found in the Flying-J Truck Stop's convenience store. The countryside may not have lots of people but it is populated with good people who enjoy family-focused fun. Examples of this are the Welsh Festival in Malad City, the July 4th celebration in Stone and Malad City, both in Idaho, and a couple of area rodeos held during the summer.

There is a bird called the Curlew and it might live in the Curlew Grassland. It has a long curved bill which can be one-third the size of its body. Although classified as a "shore" bird, the shores this bird inhabits are those on prairies, marshes, and tidal ponds. It must be a hardy bird to live and survive in an environment as varied as those mentioned. And that might be the reason this small NG, stretching across a valley in southern Idaho, carries its name. The grass, wildlife, and people have to be hardy to survive and prosper.

The Curlew National Grassland is such a small place. It isn't well known and receives little notice from people driving between Salt Lake City to Boise on I-84. However, those who take the short drive to discover its quiet beauty, remember their time there.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 1405 Hollipark Dr Idaho Falls, Idaho 83401 208-524-7500 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Westside 4350 Cliffs Dr. Pocatello, Idaho 83204 208-236-7500

Fred and Suzi Dow