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Recreational lease of public lands established around Payette Lake

A beautiful view of Payette Lake.
A beautiful view of Payette Lake.

Twelve hundred acres of land around Payette Lake have been leased through 2024 for recreational purposes by Valley County, in partnership with the advocacy group United Payette.

The County Commission unanimously approved the lease on May 22, for the Crestline Trail area on Eastside Drive and the Greengate area off Warren Wagon Road.

“They are the probably the most used for recreation, most viewed closest to the city of McCall on the east side of the lake and on the west side of the lake,” United Payette’s Jeff Mousseau said.

Those 1,200 acres were previously part of a proposed land swap with development companyTrident denied by the State Land Board in 2021, which would have privatized 26 square miles of land around the lake.

United Payette’s donors are covering the $31,000 cost of the lease, which is non-exclusive. That means grazing and mineral recovery could still be allowed in those same areas, which remain under control and oversight by IDL.

“Anything we do has to be approved by the Department of Lands,” Mousseau explained. “We've talked about putting up a sign that may just talk about public responsibilities if you're on these lands and things like that which we have the right to do under the lease.”

The lease agreement preserves the area for recreation, but also protects water quality in Payette Lake, Mousseau said. Payette Lake is McCall’s drinking water source and the top of the watershed for Lake Cascade and the Payette River.

“This lease is a win-win for Valley County residents and visitors and for the State of Idaho because it benefits the continued opportunity for multi-purpose public recreation in open spaces in Valley County in two key areas bordering Big Payette Lake,” said Valley County Recreation Director Larry Laxson in a United Payette press release announcing the agreement.

Mousseau acknowledged the tactic isn’t a long-term solution, because, while the lease income does benefit the state land trust in turn funding public schools and some other public entities, it doesn’t match the full value of the land.

“There's some discussion of a land trade between the Forest Service and the Department of Lands,” Mousseau said, when asked about long-term solutions.

“If you could put together a deal on that, built around the Payette Lake lands and other lands within the state of Idaho, that would be attractive to the Department of Lands. You could enact a trade that would be to the benefit of both parties."

The lease officially begins June 1, 2023, and runs through 2024.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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