I often wonder if Eagle Island is haunted. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were; any piece of land that has such an interesting history has probably seen its share of souls depart their earthly journey on the surface of its damp and sandy soil, through natural means or otherwise.
Eagle Island was home to some of the early settlers of our area, who made the most of its lush soil and easy water access. In 1930 the State of Idaho bought the land and opened the Eagle Island Prison Farm, moving forty low risk prisoners out to establish a facility that would continue to be expanded throughout the coming decade.
In 1977 the 545 acre plot of land was turned into a state park. It boasts a large water slide now, as well as a huge Frisbee golf course (OK, they actually call it a Professional Disc Golf course) and a stocked lake to fish in, as well as lots of pretty places to picnic and hike.
The historical facet of the park it what interests me, though.
Since Eagle Island State Park is just a short drive from where we live, it is a convenient and accessible place for Horsecrazy and I to go for a ride when we want to hit the trails and don’t have a whole day to do it. I love to meander around the property and imagine the way things used to be.
Horsecrazy and I headed out to Eagle Island yesterday, on a blustery spring day whose mostly sunny skies were belied by the chill in the wind.
We started out on the north side of the park, riding towards the site of the old dairy. As we ambled down the road I had the thought that it looked as though we were wandering toward a charming little country home, not the work site of prisoners who were paying their debt to society by producing food products to support the requirements of the prison system.
One of the first things we noticed was how high the water in the river is right now. My mare, Spice, paid particular attention to this fact.
As we wandered closer to the dairy buildings, I looked at the quaint little buildings. I thought of how attractive the place must have been when it was manicured and kept in shape all those years ago.
Everywhere you look there are old overgrown rose bushes and big old trees and I think whoever planned the prison landscaping must have liked things to look beautiful.
We kept on going down the road, following along the north channel of the river. It was so high it was crashing against its banks with a dull roaring sound that made conversation difficult. The trees and bushes along the road were just starting to flower. It was beautiful.
We came to a huge mound of gravel and Annabelle had to climb it.
I thought she looked like an ancient Indian standing guard on the top of a hill many years ago. Well, an Indian wearing a stocking cap and a pink down jacket.
We got to the “Bridge to Nowhere,” which will eventually provide another access point to the park. We usually ride under the bridge, on a clear path that is about thirty or forty feet wide. Not today. The bridge underpass was completely filled with water.
Next we headed back and over toward the south side of the park. We passed the Prison Dormitory along the way.
And headed toward the Warden’s House. This is the second most interesting part of the park to me. Once again, it looks like a quaint old homestead anywhere in the world.
Up close is a charming little house, with big trees all around and a yard that once must have been lovely.
Horsecrazy wanted to look inside. We walked up close to the front porch but we couldn’t see anything. I wondered who all had walked up these steps and stood under the little portico over the years.
Did the warden and his wife entertain? Could they find friends who wanted to come out and visit at the prison? Were they allowed? I wondered many things.
Spice stared intently out toward the little stone shed beside the house. Her body was tense.
I think she saw a ghost. Or she just admired the craftsmanship that went into constructing that little building. It was pretty cool.
We continued out along the south bank of the Boise river. The water was rushing there too, and we saw lots of geese and ducks as we rode along.
After a few minutes we came to my favorite part of the park. A place that remains a huge mystery to me.
The tunnel is carved out of a row of old trees, pretty much in the middle of big open fields. I simply cannot figure out what the purpose of the tunnel would have been. I think again that perhaps whoever created it just liked things to look pretty.
The tunnel is probably about fifty yards long. I am terrible judge of distance, so don’t hold me to it. But it’s long.
The park service keeps the branches trimmed so that you can ride through safely without hitting your head. If you pay attention.
In the summer the tunnel is a bastion of verdant green shade, cooler than the surrounding area and just a really pleasant place to ride through. I still don’t get why it’s there though.
Anyway, moving along, we come to the one place on the island that kind of creeps me out.
I don’t know why it bothers me; maybe it’s the ghosts of all the cattle and pigs who met their maker after walking up the steep concrete ramp on the north side of the building.
But most likely it’s because, compared to all the quaint little buildings scattered around the farm, it is just plain ugly.
The slaughterhouse site does have one neat little area though. I think it looks like this big old tree is holding the collapsing wooden shed in a loving embrace, supporting her as she falls to the inevitable ravages of aging.
Eventually the rest of the buildings in the park will probably cede to the inescapable elements of damp conditions and age, but for now it is fun to ride through the area and imagine all the souls that have passed through here before you.
And wonder if some of them are still around.