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Tribe may buy land surrounding mission

This “land for sale” sign is situated in the lower parking lot of the Old Mission State Park in Cataldo, Idaho. (Kathy Plonka)
This “land for sale” sign is situated in the lower parking lot of the Old Mission State Park in Cataldo, Idaho. (Kathy Plonka)

Cataldo, Idaho, acreage includes trails, Jesuit graves, waterfront access

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe is in negotiations with a private landowner about buying 100 acres surrounding Old Mission State Park at Cataldo, Idaho.

The acreage includes an old cemetery with the graves of Jesuit priests, trails to the Coeur d’Alene River and about 1,300 feet of waterfront.

“We believe the Coeur d’Alene Tribe is the best owners of the property,” said Ed Short, a Realtor who owns the land with his wife, Elena. “We’re continuing to have talks with them.”

Ancestors of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Catholic priests built the Greek revival-style mission in the 1850s. The tribe owns the mission and a visitors center, which are managed by the state Department of Parks and Recreation.

Eric Van Orden, the tribe’s attorney, confirmed that tribal officials are interested in purchasing the property because of its proximity to the mission but said he couldn’t comment on the status of the talks.

Historic drawings indicate that an Indian settlement surrounded the mission. Last October, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe opened a $3.26 million visitors center at the park to house the “Sacred Encounters” exhibit, which details Salish tribes’ interactions with Jesuit priests.

Short and his wife bought the 100 acres surrounding the mission in 2004 from a subsidiary of Asarco Inc., a former mining company that had large holdings in the Silver Valley. Short is advertising the property for $750,000.

Asarco had leased 47 acres of the land to the state for a nominal fee of $125 per year, which allowed park visitors to wander along trails to the river and the state to develop a parking lot on a portion of the private property.

When the lease expired, the state was unable to meet the Shorts’ new asking price of $8,400 per year, said David White, north regional manager for the state Department of Parks and Recreation. As a result, the lower parking lot at Old Mission State Park was closed and trail access was lost, he said.

Regaining access to that land would ease crowding at the upper parking lot and create additional parking for RVs, which often have difficulty navigating the steep hill to the upper lot, White said.

Ed Short said he works with state and tribal officials to open the lower lot for special occasions that draw large crowds, such as the annual Feast of the Assumption celebration at the mission.