Land of the Yankee Fork State Park is a public recreation area located on the north side of Lake Pend Oreille in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, five miles (8.0km) northeast of Athol in Kootenai County, Idaho. The state park’s 3,936 acres (1,593ha) include ten miles (16km) of hiking trails and seven miles (11km) of ski slopes as well as an old-growth forest, wetlands, waterfalls, lakes, and mountainside meadows. It was named for the river which runs through it, the Yankee Fork, which has its origin in the Coeur d’Alenes Mountains to the east.
Today, Land of the Yankee Fork boasts nearly 40 miles (64km) of maintained trail, 7 miles (11km) of which are open to skiing. There are 32 campsites divided between tent camping and RV camping, 6 miles (10km) of roadways, and 4 miles (6.4km) of footpaths. The park receives approximately 230,000 visitors annually.
Ranger stations are located at both ends of the park. One is accessible via Highway 95 and the other is accessible via Cabin Creek Road. The main ranger station can be reached by foot using either the Farmington Path or the Cabin Creek Trail. The south ranger station can only be accessed by vehicle using the Skyline Drive/Rim of the Valley Road. No access fees are charged to use either park. Camping overnight in your vehicle is allowed in both parks. Overnight parking costs $7 per night per vehicle. Day use and unlicensed motor vehicles are not permitted within the park. All vehicles must display a current permit issued by the Idaho Department of Lands.
The park provides restroom facilities, hot showers, laundry facilities, and a trailer dump station. Picnic tables are scattered throughout the park in open grassy areas. There are no flush toilets or trash receptacles available. Group shelters may be reserved for private events. Reservations must be received in advance. No alcoholic beverages, glassware, or unlicensed motor vehicles are permitted inside the park. The park closes at dusk, so the roads and waterways become inaccessible to the general public. Campsites are closed mid-September through late June due to the lack of daylight hours during winter. When the sun is out, however, the trees come alive with the sounds of nature. Squirrels, rabbits, birds, and other wildlife abound. Waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds migrate past the windowpanes as spring approaches.
The lake becomes covered in a blanket of duckweed, but eventually the plants lose their grip and drift away. As the weather warms, insects hatch and pollinate flowers. The entire process begins anew. The human presence also impacts wildlife. Miners searching for ore concentrate in the hills find coal instead. Loggers search the forests for old-growth trees to harvest for lumber. And tourists drive past the scenic overlooks looking for a place to stay. The result is less habitat for wildlife.
To ensure a future for wildlife, the park offers educational programs, manages habitat conservation plans, and participates in environmental monitoring projects. Volunteers help keep the park clean by maintaining trails, renewing habitats, and educating others about the environment. Every September, hundreds of thousands of migratory birds converge on the lake to feed upon the abundant prey items.
In 1890, prospectors flocking into the Coeur d’Alene region discovered gold at what they thought was a deserted mine called “Old Joe,” but when they arrived, there were three miners already working the claim. They agreed that the name Old Joe wasn’t appropriate so they renamed the mine “Yankee” and the stream “Forked River.”
A few years later, another miner, this time accompanied by his family, arrived and also found gold. This man sowed some oats in one of the meadow areas and when he returned a year later, he reported that his crop had failed because the soil was too rocky. He asked the local newspaper if there was any way he and his fellow miners could improve the quality of the land around their camp site. An editor replied with an idea. He suggested that since the miners wanted to make their living farming, perhaps they should call themselves “The Farmington Farmers Club” and form a club house near where the town of Farmington now sits.
The first meeting was held in May 1891, just four months after the original discovery of gold. Thirty-four men showed up at the clubhouse, each bringing along two or three families. By fall, almost 200 people lived in Camp Richardson, sharing expenses in a cooperative community. Two years later, the campground was added to provide additional housing for those who chose not to live on the farm.
Over time, more than 300 buildings were constructed including homes, stores, schools, and churches. With all these new residents came various needs; garbage, sewage, and water systems had to be installed. Roads and sidewalks were improved and electrical lines ran throughout the district. In short order, Camp Richardson became a thriving metropolis complete with stock exchange, post office, bank, newspapers, and opera house. But like most mining towns, prosperity did not last forever.
After about 15 years, interest in farming waned and many of the farmers left the area. Those that remained began to build houses far from the mines, preferring the solitude of country life to the rowdyism of city life. At the same time, the once prosperous camp fell into disrepair. Garbage piled up in the streets, weeds took over the commons, and squatters moved in during the 1960s and ’70s.
However, a group of determined locals teamed together to save the camp and surrounding lands. Led by attorney Robert Chambers, the citizens formed the Friends of Camp Richardson and began lobbying government officials to set aside land around the camp site as a state park. Their efforts paid off in 1974 when 1,036 acres were officially designated as a state park. Although the designation made little difference to the squatter population, it did stop them from being evicted if the owners decided to sell the property. Since then, LORAN-C radio station volunteers have kept watch over the grounds while other Parks Division workers have been busy upgrading facilities and adding amenities such as picnic sites, interpretive displays, and hiking trails.
Other features include:
- swimming beach
- boat launch
- equestrian staging area
- picnicking facilities
- cabin colony
Land of the Yankee Fork is home of:
- white-tailed deer
- black bear
- mountain goat
- cottontail rabbit
- ground squirrel
- red fox
- timber wolf
- Canadian lynx
- mountain lion
Bird watchers may see a variety of:
- trumpeter swans
- bald eagles
- wild turkeys
- Canada geese
- snow geese
- American white pelicans
- trumpeter swans
- bald eagles
- golden eagles
- double-crested cormorants
- common loons
- ring-necked ducks