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Old Union Pacific Railroad

This trail is the Old Union Pacific Railroad bed; Approximately 23 mile run through this district. Access points to the trail are at the crossings of the following roads: Big Springs Loo Road, Chick Creek Road and Eccles Road. This trail is used as an ATV, mountain bike and horse trails in the summer and is maintained as a snowmobile trail during the winter months.

The historical impact of the railroad through Island Park stands out significantly as a major influence in the opening-up of tourism, lumbering, and ranching in Island Park. From 1909 to 1979, the Ashton to West Yellowstone track brought contributors of long lasting impact to the life style of the area.

In 1905, the St. Anthony Railroad Company, builders of the line from Idaho Falls to St. Anthony, decided to extend a line from St. Anthony northward to the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park. This project was immediately started in October, 1905 and involved a distance of 70 miles.

The significance of this action was not only profound for the Island Park area, but gave the impetus for the organization of two, new towns to be laid out as connecting points on the route- Ashton, Idaho and West Yellowstone, Montana. While the roadbed was being laid in the lower valley of Idaho, another crew was assigned to jump ahead into Island Park and prepare roadbed there. In 1906, the railroad line was oficially opened to Ashton and the roadbed to West Yellowstone was finished in late 1908. In his book, “Intermountain Railroads, Standard and Narrow Gauge”, historian M.D. Beal, has this to say about the line through Island Park:

“George H. Baker was the engineer of the first passenger train to reach West Yellowstone- the date of the entry was June 5, 1909. He was assigned to that run for several seasons thereafter. The most serious accident he had during this service resulted from the engine striking a large, bull moose in the Island Park area. The bull’s elegantly antlered head adorns a wall in the West Yellowstone railroad station.

The fifty-seven mile stretch of track connecting Ashton, Idaho and West Yellowstone, Montana becomes snowbound annually by depths varying from six to thirty feet. Since Yellowstone National Park and related operations in the area require train service long before June temperatures would clear the track, Union Pacific engineers have an annual chore on their hands. For several Decades, veteran roadmaster John Balmer determined the time for the four-day task. It is usually attacked in mid-march by a crew, supply train, and two types of plows. A fuller wedge plow proved adequate in shallow depths and upon grades where the snow falls away. Otherwise, a big Lima-Hamilton rotary was required. As a powerful locomotive , whether steam or diesel-electric, pushed upon the rotary, snow began to fly. The centrifugal action of the fan-type wheels whirled snow seventy-five feet away, cutting a corridor fifteen feet wide. An experienced engineer determined the speed and pressure according to the depth and compactness of the snow. The deepest drfts are encountered at Rea’s Pass, elevation 6,934 feet above sea level. This is the Continental Divide, located some ten miles south of the terminal.”

Upon completion of the line from Ashton to West Yellowstone, the Oregon Short Line railroad made a lease/purchase from the St. Anthony Railroad Company. Shortly thereafter, E.H. Harriman secured control of the Union Pacific, including also the Oregon Short Line and Oregon-Washington Railroad Companies. Harriman effected a thorough reorganization of all these lines and they entered an era of prosperity. This prosperity was brought about (in part) by the line through Island Park and reciprocated in the increased flow of tourists into Yellowstone.

For 70 years the Ashton-West Yellowstone line was maintained and was a functional part of the Island Park- Yellowstone area. In the late 1970’s, the Union Pacific Railroad administrator deemed the line unprofitable and proceeded to close the line. The Union Pacific System Timetable, dated December 10, 1978, was the last time the line was included in their timetable system. In 1979, the abandoned line was sold to a salvage operator who lifted the tracks and ties. The right-of-way was abandoned and returned to mother nature. Another era had ended in Island Park!

Information and photos from this page are from the book “History of Island Park” by Dean H. Green