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State looks to auction island in Payette Lake near McCall


An island in the middle of Payette Lake could go up for auction soon.

The 14.21-acre Cougar Island is the largest in the iconic lake bordered by McCall. Now, the Idaho Department of Lands hopes to auction it off to the highest bidder.

The island is part of Idaho’s endowment land (see explainer below). Now, the state has contracted with Corbett Bottles Real Estate Auctions to sell the property.

“Cougar Island is a private 14.21-acre island located in McCall, Idaho,” Corbett Bottles wrote in the auction description. It’s of note the island is not in McCall but in unincorporated Valley County, however. “With over 4,200 feet of water frontage on Payette Lake, the island offers unparalleled opportunity for privacy and recreation in Idaho’s most sought-after mountain town.”

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The auction will be held this summer as The Star-News of McCall first reported, but Corbett Bottles has not yet set an official date. The auction format will allow for one bidder to buy the entire island or for individual sales of a set of five lots on the property. An appraisal will be set first, which will dictate some terms of the auctions.

The island does not have any public infrastructure, including electricity. As you would expect for an island, it can only be accessed by boat – and Payette Lake is covered in ice for much of the winter, which at times is too thin to support the weight of a person. There is a current home on the island, with a land lease in place.

Latest move for Cougar, endowment

The sale is the latest in a long series of auctions of so-called cottage sites around Payette Lake and Priest Lake in North Idaho. For generations, the Idaho Department of Lands leased properties around both lakes to individuals and families, who then built and owned cabins or homes on the properties. In 2010, the Idaho Land board – a panel of elected officials including the governor – voted to divest the cottage sites. It launched a voluntary auction process where leaseholders could volunteer to put their site up for auction. Some unleased lands have also been auctioned off.

Cougar Island was included in a sweeping, and ultimately rejected, proposal by Boise-based Trident Holdings to swap high-profile Idaho endowment lands around Payette Lake for unspecified timberlands in North Idaho. A later idea by the US Forest Service to swap federal lands in Adams County for land around Payette Lake did not include the island. The United Payette group has also submitted a proposal for some of the endowment lands.

The Department of Lands has looked to sell off Cougar Island before, but in 2020 the Idaho Land Board stepped back from the idea after community pressure.

Even if all five lots are sold, current Valley Co. zoning could limit further houses on the site, as the zoning calls for just one house for every ten acres. However, any future owner could try to win approval from Valley County for rezoning.

Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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