Butte County Idaho Chamber of Commerce | Arco Idaho Chamber of Commerce

For a number of years this was the official website for the Arco Idaho Chamber of Commerce | Butte County Idaho Chamber of Commerce.
Content is from the site's 2013 archived pages providing just a glimpse of what this site offered its visitors.


Arco Idaho Chamber of Commerce
Butte County Idaho Chamber of Commerce
PO Box 837
Arco , Idaho 83213
208-527-3060 ext 10


What's This Place All About?

Area History

The importance of Arco in the past is the same as it is today-it serves as the crossroads of Idaho. The Shoshone traveled through the area on an annual migration to find food, the mountain men passed by while looking for beaver in nearby streams, and the emigrants drove their wagons into the area as they followed one of the routes taken by the Oregon Tail. Later, miners and then ranchers and farmers began to settle the area.
A 1967 guide to Idaho stated that "… Butte County has probably retained more spirit of the old west than any other county in the state of Idaho." That spirit still exists here today.


More Arco History

Arco-The Crossroads of Idaho

Arco is not a town where you hear its name and automatically associate the place with a particular trait or feature. Arco is more a collage of different attributes. It's a true farm town with a tradition of raising spuds, a few sporadic acres of wheat and barley, and a lot of alfalfa. Closely associated, ranching is also prevalent with cattle and a few remnant sheep grazing surrounding lands. Arco also has close ties to the nuclear industry twenty-something miles away at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). Established in 1949, INL is an important source of jobs for the area. The town is also the gateway to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve and depends on tourism to support many local businesses. But most of all, Arco is a place of transition, where the desert plain meets the mountains, blue streams disappear into black lava, and the urban of Idaho gives way to the wilds of Idaho. People come to Arco because their families lives there, they like living in a small town where a western heritage still thrives, or because they are passing through. Today, as it has been for over a hundred years, if you need to get around Idaho, sooner or later you will pass through Arco.

The Early Days

The Shoshone were the first to visit the place where the Big Lost River exits the mountains and flows onto the Snake River Plain. Each spring the Shoshone who wintered in the "bottomlands" near the present day Pocatello, would set out on an annual migration. The migration was made in order for the tribe to best take advantage of the natural cycles that provided food from season to season.

The first leg of their travels was also one of the most difficult. As they moved away from the Snake River, they immediately were forced to contend with the desert conditions of the lava beds. Water was sparse on the plain because the porous lava allowed water to quickly sink below the surface. Only by moving from one lava tube to another were they able to find the water (kept from sinking into the lava sponge by a layer of ice) needed to make the crossing of hot black rock and dusty dry sagebrush.

After crossing the tongue-parching plain, the Big Lost River and surrounding trees and meadows must have been an incredible oasis. Here the Shoshone recuperated, hunted the surrounding area, and then continued their journey utilizing a series of other water sources such as Champagne Creek, Silver Creek, and the Big Wood River as they made their way to the Camas Prairie. Here, the bulbs of thousands of camas plants provided the chief component of the Shoshone's diet while small mammals and deer provided the protein they needed.

n late summer, the Shoshone moved on to the Boise River and then to the Snake River below Shoshone Falls. Here they caught hundreds of salmon migrating upstream. After drying the fish in the late fall, they followed the Snake River back to their wintering grounds.
Following the Shoshone, were the mountain men from the Hudson Bay Company. The first group to enter this area arrived in 1820 under the leadership of Thyery Goddin. They claimed the discovery of what they named Goddin's River (later the name changed to the Big Lost River as later mountain men traced it to the sinks at the edge of the Snake River Plain where it pools and is absorbed into the lavas) and, over the next several years, trapped it and all of its tributaries. These same mountain men were also the first white Europeans to cross the Snake River Plain between present day Arco and the Snake River and to visit Big Southern Butte (a volcanic remnant that rises 2,350 feet above the plain) a soon to be important landmark for later travelers.

In the 1850s, a few emigrants began traveling through the Arco area as they followed a northern branch off of the Oregon Trail. First know as Jeffery's Cutoff (and later Goodale's Cutoff), this trail was little used because the arid desert and jagged lava encountered was much more difficult than the southern route. This all changed, however, when hostility with the Shoshone greatly increased and left several Indians and emigrants dead or wounded. It was also at this time that gold was discovered on the Salmon River.

In 1862, the first large wagon train to follow this route was lead by Tim Goodale who took the wagons from a river crossing near the present sites of Blackfoot to Arco. From the river crossing, the group headed for Big Southern Butte where a spring at its base provided the only water in 60-miles. At Arco, Goodale waited for more wagons to join the group gradually amassing a train consisting of 820 emigrants, 338 wagons and nearly 1,500 head of livestock. They gathered in such large numbers because of a continued fear of further hostilities with the Shoshone. This huge wagon train became the largest to ever travel over any portion of the Oregon Trail. The train was so large it was said to have taken three hours for every wagon to get moving each morning.

The trip between the Arco and the Wood River Valley was considered to be the worse section of the entire route to the west. Treacherous lava flows caused nothing but trouble and the hot July and August days took their toll on the emigrants and livestock traveling through this area. The lavas were so bad that one wagon rider stated, "It was a relief to see the distance widening between us and those volcanic strata. It was a desolate, dismal scenery. Up or down the valley as far as the eye could reach or across to the mountains in the dim distance the same unvarying mass of black rock. Not a shrub, bird, nor insect seemed to live near it. Great must have been the emetic, that poured forth such a mass of black vomit." Without the haven provided by the waters of the Big Lost at Arco, it is possible that many emigrants would have never survived.

Strikes of precious minerals in the Salmon River, Wood River Valley, and Pioneer Mountains just west of Arco in the late 1870s, lead to the establishment of a freight line that moved supplies to the miners and gold and silver back to Blackfoot. Arco was becoming more and more important as a crossroads. In fact at one time, the place was called "Junction." But when officially named, (the post office ruled out using "junction" because of a surplus number of towns with the same name), it came to be called "Arco" in honor of a European Count visiting Washington, D.C.

In 1879, the oxen and mule-drawn wagons were joined by 6-horse stagecoaches that moved people, mail, and supplies over the same route. Eventually, the arrival of the railroad into Shoshone in 1882 and into Arco and then Mackay in 1901 provided a better travel solution for moving people, minerals, and livestock.

In the 1870s, a few ranches and farms were starting up along the length of the Big Lost River. The Desert Land Act of 1877 made many of these operations possible. This federal program provided settlers with 640 acres as long as they agreed to provide irrigation and improve the land. The raising of livestock and the hay required for winter-feeding became the dominant commerce. During this period, Arco grew to serve as a hub for people moving cattle and sheep to market. There were times when flocks as large as 20,000 sheep were trailed through Arco on the way from Oregon to Nebraska.

Starting in 1906, a succession of irrigation companies constructed a system of canals, diversions, and a dam above Mackay that made valley agricultural pursuits much more practical and sometimes even profitable. Even with these improvements, farming in this area could be considered difficult and, in bad years, even impossible-but the chance to live in the Arco and Big Lost area continued to appeal to more and more people.
As the local population grew, there was a need for a community to serve them and so Arco was incorporated in 1908 with a population of just over 300. Butte County was created in 1917 and Arco became its county seat.



It's Happening Today

It may seem an odd combination, but the biggest influences on the community of Arco come from traditional farming and ranching, association with the INL and its nuclear programs, and the mountains and lava lands that attract so many tourists. With such different influences at work, it has always been difficult to put a finger on the identity of this town of 1,000 people.
Farming and ranching have always been the cornerstones of the Arco economy and culture. This association provides an identity to the community, but at the same time exposes it to the threats bad weather or bad prices may have on that same community's members. But these occupations are about surviving and despite every negative event there is a tradition here of meeting all challenges.

The greatest challenge ever faced may be the extended drought currently being felt in all of Idaho. Local farmers have responded by moving away from water intensive crops like potatoes and planting alfalfa only to change again to even less water demanding crops such as barley. Many farmers have put in center pivots to try and reduce the amount of water needed to raise a crop, while ranchers have gone to new methods of handling cattle, worked to expand riparian areas, and improve the condition of range lands. But the drought keeps gaining ground with farmers finding less and less water in their irrigation ditches each year. Water pumped from wells disappears as wells dry up and at a cost of $25 or more a foot to sink a new well it is an expensive proposition for a farmer already financially strapped.

Where Arco's cool nights and warm days once produced abundant grasses high in the protein cattle need for quick growth, the land now produces one half as much feed. Where springs once provided water for remote herds, trucks must now deliver water several times each day over many miles of rough road. A quick computation of water needs of a typical herd of 450 pairs of cows and calves in July indicates that at least 8,000 gallons of water are required each day. When you consider that the average tanker truck on the highway carries 5,000 to 6,000 gallons, the magnitude of the problem is obvious.

It is now estimated that it would take three years in a row of 125% of normal precipitation to even start to restore the aquifer. But ranchers and farmers whose families have lived on this land for several generations will not be giving up easily. As one local put it, "Anybody can ranch in the rain, it's ranching through a drought that's the challenge."

As a short-term solution, many involved in agriculture have needed to find other work and many have found jobs at the INL. The INL was preceded by the U.S. Navy who found the desolate sagebrush and lava flats between Arco and Idaho Falls a perfect place to test the big guns of their ships during World War II. Guns of battleships used in the war effort eventually wore out and where shipped to Pocatello where they were relined at the Naval Ordinance Plant. They were then sent north to be fired and tested. After dropping a few accurate rounds over the surrounding territory, the guns were again ready for use. This operation closed with the end of the war, but the Navy continued to maintain a presence in the nuclear research program that soon followed.
At first known as the National Reactor Testing Station, the area was to eventually see the largest concentration of nuclear reactors in the world. At one time, 52 reactors were in operation at what became known locally as the "site."

Research eventually allowed scientists to use nuclear fission to produce electricity. This lead to the actual transmission of nuclear generated electricity through power lines to the city of Arco on July 17, 1955. This made Arco the first city in the world to be lit (although only for one hour) with atomic power.

Today the research conducted at INL has broadened to include programs involved with developing new technologies, cleaning the environment, improving energy production, and assisting with the nation's defense. In 2002, the Department of Energy proclaimed that INL was to take the lead for the nation as the primary center for nuclear research and development.
Although, early on, Arco had visions of being the home of the site's headquarters that changed as the decision was made to base the INL out of Idaho Falls. Many residents from the Lost River Valley, however, are employed in one of the 8,000 professional and support jobs provided by the site. As with all of southeastern Idaho, the INL is by far the largest single employer in the area and has a dominating economic influence locally.

Arco has recently developed plans to build a science center that will emphasize the contributions the INL has made to the understanding of nuclear power. It will also stress the role the site played in the development of technology pertinent to the development of nuclear submarines. In tribute to the 40,000 sailors who were trained in nuclear operations at the site, Arco obtained the sail of the USS Hawkbill, a submarine built in 1969 and decommissioned in 2000. The "Sail in the Desert" now serves as the placeholder for the planned museum.

To the west of Arco sits Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Recently expanded, the monument is now nearly as large as the state of Rhode Island. Set aside in 1924 as a National Park site, it now offers visitors a wide array of activities and opportunities to experience and learn about the volcanic forces that created this very unique area. With the most recent volcanic activity occurring only 2,000 years ago, the relatively young geologic features such as cinder cones, lava flows, and lava tubes attract nearly 200,000 visitors each year. A nearly all of these visitors travel through Arco enroute to or from the monument.

Arco was instrumental in supporting the creation of the monument in the early 1920s. After Boise explorer Robert Limbert first traversed the entire 60-mile length of the Monument's Great Rift, he wrote articles and published photos that emphasized the unique features of the area. His promotion of the area was joined by such Arco residents as Clarence A. Bottolfsen, editor of the local newspaper (and later a two-term governor of Idaho) and eventually attracted the attention of many people. An article "Among the Craters of the Moon" was published in the National Geographic Magazine and the national attention it received prodded President Calvin Coolidge to establish the Monument. From this time on, Arco has served as an unofficial "gateway" to the park and has always maintained a close association.

Other recreation opportunities abound in proximity to Arco. Fishing in the Big Lost River and Mackay Reservoir, hunting in the foothills of the Pioneer and Big Lost Mountains, and snowmobiling up Antelope Canyon or the Copper Basin mean hundreds of people are constantly visiting Arco. The list continues with hang gliding off nearby mountain peaks, cross-country skiing at Craters of the Moon, and camping in the Challis National Forest becoming increasingly popular activities. The demand for recreation should continue to expand and benefit the community in future years.

There is no doubt that recent trends have been tough on small towns. In an attempt to put on a smiling face, local Chambers of Commerce love to use phrases such as "anticipating a bright future," "wonderful place to live," and "on the edge of greatness." But these catch phrases still have a meaning in Arco. Although drought has taken a toll on the farmers and ranchers of the area, they continue to raise crops and animals in "anticipation of a brighter future." And although a few business have disappeared and services are limited, there are few Arconians who would be here if they didn't think this was a "wonderful place to live." And if being "on the edge of greatness" includes things such as putting on a Blue Angels Air Show for more than 30,000 people (in 2003), then yes, Arco has reached that plateau as well.
Today, Arco citizens still educate 300 school students (including a Rhodes Scholar) each year, play an important role in supporting our country's nuclear program, raise some of the best quality alfalfa found anywhere, and continue to greet each day enthusiastically. This is a town that has yet to find a problem too big to overcome. And if you value community not by the number of Wal-Mart's it has, but by its people Arco shines.

A 1967 guide to Idaho stated that, "'.Butte County has probably retained more spirit of the Old West than any other county in the state of Idaho." That spirit is still here today and regardless of what has to be faced next, Arco will always retain its place as the crossroads of Idaho.
Copyright David Clark, 6/1/2004, Arco.


My reality: I first visited Arco when I took my family on a summer trip to visit the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Craters of the Moon was formed during eight major eruptive periods between 15,000 and 2000 years ago. It is a vast ocean of lava flows with scattered islands of cinder cones and sagebrush making the area a weird yet scenic landscape.We took a number of hikes during our five day visit. My younger son wanted to collect some rock specimens. Let me just say he is an avid collector. I bought some sturdy containers with lids and then decided to return to the site where I had purchased janitorial supplies, as well as a great wringer/mop bucket for the company I work for. I had done quite a bit of research before selecting CleanItSuppy. What's great about the site is that they sell both to the wholesale customer and retail customer. Not only are they stocked with an abundance of janitorial supplies, but also products for restaurants, and offices. I picked up some fun craft items, paper, scissors, crayons, markers, bead kits etc to keep the kids occupied during down time. I have to say our trip to Arco was a great adventure. Living on the west coast and driving to Idaho and the Snake River Plain with its desert scrub vegetation and small scattered towns was in itself a trip of discovery for kids who are use to the Oregon coastline and the city of Portland. Passing through the Rockies is always impressive as we continued to loosely follow the Big Lost River which starts in the Rocky Mountains and flows in a generally southeast direction into the Snake River Plain. A fine trip, all around.



Idaho Science Center

The seemingly out-of-place submarine sail at the entrance to Arco is the first stage in the development of an Idaho Science Center. This monolithic memorial was once part of the USS Hawkbill, a nuclear submarine built in 1969.
This sail now serves as the centerpiece of a planned development that will stress the role made by the INL to the understanding of nuclear power and of the forty thousand US Navy Sailors who trained for nuclear submarine duty at the this site.


The City of Arco

City Offices
P.O. Box 196
132 W Grand Ave.
Arco, Idaho 83213
Phone: (208) 527-8294
Fax: (208) 527-8951

City Population: 1,195

County: Butte
Population: 3,095

Office Hours: M-F, 9:00 -12 Noon; 1:00-4:00 pm

Mayor: Ross Langseth

Council Member, Chairperson: Gene Davies
Council Member: Travis Gilchrist
Council Member: Lois Bleak
Council Member: Rye McAffee

City Clerk: Virginia Parsons
City Maintenance Supervisor: Carl Nulf

Fire Chief: Dan Koste

Arco City Council meets
the second & fourth Monday of every month at 7:00 pm. at the BIC


Rural Living at its Best

Because of its unique location, Arco can offer both the benefits of a rural lifestyle and the amenities of the "Big City". Arco itself is a town with a population of 1,200 with another 2,000 people living in the surrounding county. It is situated at the junction of Highways 20/26 and Hwy 93. which makes it the natural hub of a very large area.
The town has schools, a hospital, and all the businesses needed to serve the daily needs of residents. In addition, with the larger cities of Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls and Sun Valley all located within a 1 to 2 hour drive of Arco, all of the amenities of city life can be quickly accessed.
Living in Arco or surrounding areas means being able to fish the Big Lost River in the morning, shop at the mall in Idaho Falls or one of the other cities nearby in the afternoon, and still see the sunset over the Pioneer Mountains in the evening.

Housing Bargains

Butte County has all the attributes of the resort areas of the West except for the availability of downhill skiing. Here outdoor activities, magnificent vistas, and a western flavor all exist with the only thing missing being the sky-high costs associated with resort living. Many houses in the area can be purchased for under $100,00.00 and land is available for less then $2,000.00 per acre. In the nearest resort, these prices would be astronomically higher.



Farming, ranching, and tourism support many families and rural development programs are beginning to attract new businesses to the Lost River Valley. Many Arco residents are employed at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL, the largest employer in eastern Idaho) which is a short commute away. Scheduled bus service is available from Arco to the INL site.

Spotlight on Business:

Spot Light on Business: Bobbie's Doll House

By Chad Cheyney, Butte County Chamber of Commerce

Bobbie McKee started collecting dolls more than 35 years ago after her friend, Harriet, started teaching her to repair and restore dolls.  On Valentine's Day, Bobbie realized a long time dream to open a doll museum, Bobbie's Doll House.  The Doll House in located in downtown Moore, Idaho between the Chop Shop and Glass and Moore.  It is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm.  The museum is supported by donations.

Bobbie previously lived in Idaho, but migrated to California where she and her husband Chuck, lived near Merced.  The pace of life, number of people and the divergence of ideas took their toll and the McKee's were in search of a new home. 

They happened to see an advertisement for Elsie and John Traughber's home, north of Arco, and called about it.  After some false starts, they made the arrangements to purchase the home.  While Elsie and the McKee's were working out the details, Elsie and Bobbie discovered that their parents had been close friends, and that they had probably played together as infants and toddlers!

Bobbie has collected most of her dolls from garage sales and thrift stores, refurbishing and restoring them as a hobby.  The museum has over 300 display items.  The earliest item is a handmade sawdust filled doll, with a painted porcelain head that was made in the 1800's.  Her most current display was made in 2012! Bobbie has a large number of reference books.  She is willing to help individuals learn about the history or their own dolls.  She can be reached for questions on dolls or about the museum at 208-541-6646 or at the museum in Moore.

Bobbie pointed out that dolls have a lot of history.  The Mattel Toy Company was started in a garage in 1945, manufacturing dolls.  A year later, the company was grossing over a $1 million dollars.  She says the most rewarding part of the museum experience has been to see a visitor recognize a doll that they had as a child and exclaim, 'Oh!  I had that doll when I was a child and loved it!'


Calendar of Events

Special Events and Traditions

Local Communities of Arco, Moore, and Howe pride themselves in supporting a wide variety of traditional activities each year. These range from rodeos, fairs, cross-country runs, and softball tournaments to paragliding competitions. Arco's signature event is Atomic Days which celebrates the present and past of Arco.


Annual Chamber Dinner - 3rd Saturday in April. Hosted by the Butte County Chamber of Commerce, a fun filled evening of Mystery Theater. Located at the Arco Elementary School. Contact Butte County Chamber of Commerce for more information at: 208-527-8977, e-mail: [email protected]


Spring Fling on King - Memorial Day Weekend. First Hang Gliding/Paragliding competition of the season. Sponsored by King Mountain Gliders. Located on King Mountain outside of Moore. For more information call: (208)390-0205, or E-mail: [email protected]  Website: www.kingmountaingliders.com
High School Rodeo - Generally the end of May. Part of the High School Rodeo Circuit, this event is always exciting. Held at the Arco rodeo grounds. For more information contact Cheryl Baker at 208-838-2269.


King Mountain Car & Tractor Show - June 26 & 27 2010 in Moore. Tractors old and new. Cars old and new. Poker run. Kids entertainment. Craft fair. Food vendors. Music in the park & more. For more information www.moorecommunityassociation.com


King Mountain Annual Competition - Located on King Mountain outside of Moore. Contest Web site: www.flykingmountain.com
For more information
Call: (208)390-0205
E-mail: [email protected]
Website: www.kingmountaingliders.com

4th of July Parade - 4th of July. Located down Arco's Main Street.

Atomic Days - Closest Weekend to July 17th. Held in Arco, City wide celebration. Contact Butte County Chamber of Commerce for more information at: 208-527-8977, e-mail: [email protected] 

Atomic Days Rodeo - Closest Weekend to July 17th. Located in the Arco Rodeo Grounds.


Men's Softball Tournament - August. Located in Arco City Park B. For more information call 208-527-8294

Butte County Fair - August. Located at Butte County Fair Grounds. For more information call 208-527-8587

Bud Marvel Tournament - August. Located at the River Park Golf Course in Mackay.


Paragliding Annual Competition - Labor Day Weekend. Located on King Mountain outside of Moore. For more information call: (208)390-0205, or E-mail: [email protected]  Website: www.kingmountaingliders.com


Festival of Trees - 1st Weekend of December. Located in the Butte Middle School. Sponsored by the Lost River Hospital Auxiliary, for more information for 2010 call Judy at 208-527-3069