Seventy-five years ago, the people of Clark’s Fork (now Clark Fork) and Hope decided to have a picnic. Its purpose was to bring pioneers together and preserve history.
A committee met, selected officers and decided to hold the first potluck on Aug. 17, 1922, near the site of the historic Kullyspell House on Lake Pend Oreille east of Hope. The site was chosen for its accessibility by car and boat and its bathing beach. According to the North Idaho News, arrangements “matured” as speakers and bands were selected, tents were erected, and dressing rooms and ice were furnished for picnickers.
Thus began the tradition.
Ruth Hayes Riggen first attended the Hope-Clark Fork picnic in 1924. The 90-year-old Greenacres resident recalled the gathering at the Indian encampment known as “N’Chim M’Sene” in a meadow (now covered by water) near the mouth of the Clark Fork River.
“The Indians would come and entertain us with their horse races,” she recalled. Riggen and her friend Molly also participated in games at the picnic. “We were the best racers that year.”
Since its early days, sons, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original picnickers have maintained the tradition every August. The site has changed a couple of times, but the spirit of reminiscing times past remains the same.
Nearly 100 attended the 1997 gathering at Sam Owen Campground on Lake Pend Oreille last week.
Veterans like sisters Irene Rowley and Evelyn Aschenbach (94 and 92 years old, respectively) and newcomers like 10-month-old Kaylee Kiebert Long enjoyed a menu of meats, salads, dessert, coffee and juice blended with a full plate of memories from past picnics.
Past regulars like Grace Pretre, who passed away recently, were remembered, while familiar faces not seen in years inspired enthusiastic shrieks and warm hugs from old friends.
Like the original committee in 1922, families like the McChesnies and the Dunns helped organize name tags, a guest book, tables and drinks at the picnic shelter on land donated to the U.S. Forest Service by pioneers Sam and Ina Owen.
Former Clark Fork principal Harold Walker, a self-proclaimed snowbird from Kansas who spent part of his youth on “Incubator Hill” east of Hope, remembered the Owens as people who “indulged the kids.” Incubator Hill was so named because of its families with lots of kids.
While visiting with Mildred and Doug Rude, Walker pointed toward the shoreline. “We used to have to crawl over piles of driftwood to get from the water to the beach,” he recalled. He also attended when the event was held near the mill at Hope.
“Sometimes we had kids get lost in the flume going down Strong Creek,” he said. “They’d get in that and go shootin’ all the way down.”
History buffs like 85-year-old Kenny Reed helped pass on the legacy of the picnic by sharing stories about ancestors. Reed’s uncle, Joseph, came to North Idaho in 1881 when Chinese workers were blasting rock cuts for the railroad near the present site of Cabinet Gorge Dam.
“He was a believer in rocks,” Reed said. “He established the Lawrence lead and silver Mine, which included a 2,000-foot tunnel into Antelope Mountain.”
After 75 years, the Hope-Clark Fork potluck continues to attract visitors from all over the West who delight in surprises that come from just showing up.
Lois Coulthard Burkhart of Missoula rarely misses a picnic for just that reason. “Three years ago I saw a gal I hadn’t seen since we graduated from the last class at Hope High School in 1942.”
, DataTimes MEMO: Marianne Love is a free-lance writer in Sandpoint. She has written two books, “Pocket Girdles” and “Postcards from Potatoe Land.” Panhandle Pieces appears every Saturday. The column is shared among several North Idaho writers.
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