The Stoddard Mill Pond
Six Generations of Family Work Reborn as a Kids’ Fishing Spot
By Geraldine Mathias
When our daughter married into the Stoddard clan and introduced us to present-day descendants, I soon realized a family of great storytellers had come into our midst. They were eager to share family escapades and adventures, but since she and her extended in-law family live in the Boise area and I’m in Blackfoot, not until the last four or five years did I realize their family is steeped in eastern Idaho history as well. To my surprise, I found that the site of the Stoddard Mill Pond in Island Park, about fifteen miles from our summer home, was once a thriving lumber enterprise owned for six generations by this same Stoddard family.
When the Stoddards gave up their lease in the early 1960s and moved the mill to St. Anthony, the site and the pond were reclaimed by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, which recently restored it to its original depth of six feet and turned it into a kids’ fishing pond stocked with rainbow trout. Only children are allowed to fish the pond, and catch limits apply. It is an easy drive along Highway 20 north of Ashton toward Elk Creek Station, and then, about five miles down Yale-Kilgore road, a very small, high sign directs visitors to the pond, and I think it’s the perfect place for a kid to learn to fish. The pond is round and flat, with no shrubs lining its perimeter, so children can be taught to cast a line on calm water. Several picnic tables surround the sides where families can eat lunch, wait, or watch fledgling fishermen catch dinner. A floating dock and a fishing platform have been installed.
Plans of several Island Park groups include erecting a kiosk that will tell the history of the pond, but that hasn’t happened yet. Across the narrow road from the pond, three large concrete foundations remain from the mill site. About a hundred yards away from the pond in the fringe of trees that fronts the more dense forest is the former location of the mill camp and facilities.
Besides the pond, little remains to suggest the existence of the small Idaho town of Rea, where the mill was last located. But Larry Dalling, son of Alta Stoddard Low, brought the place alive for me with his animated narrative about living there during the summers as a young boy and teenager. His cousin, Ron Stoddard, has also told me many stories, as he was the last Stoddard to own the mill, whose history goes back more than 130 years.