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The History of Melita Island

Melita Island outline

As you sail across Flathead Lake, a few islands will probably stand out to you. One of the smaller islands you may spot just south of Wild Horse Island is Melita Island. This 64-acre island is now owned by the Boy Scouts of America. However, there is much more to the history of the island than its current use as a Boy Scout camp. 

1800s: Melita Island’s first inhabitants

Melita Island was inhabited long before the Boy Scouts arrived. It’s believed the Salish, Kootenai, and upper Pend d’Oreille tribes likely used Melita Island as a seasonal gathering place and a strategic location for accessing resources. It likely wasn’t until the 19th century that explorers even knew about the island! 

1915: The Knights of Templar

The Masonic Knights of Templar bought Melita Island in 1915. In the 1920s, they built the first permanent structure on Melita Island— a pavilion! With the pavilion, the masons planned to host annual sessions on the island and make it the meeting place of the Grand Commandery of Montana. You can see a photo of the Masons on Melita Island here. In later years, the Masons began renting out the island to the Boy Scouts for $1 a year. 

1975: Selling the island

In 1975, the Masons decided they wanted to sell Melita Island. They first offered the Boy Scouts the opportunity to buy the island but they were unable to raise the funds. Developers took interest in the island as well, however, they couldn’t find a way to remove sewage from the island and those deals fell through too. In 1989, the Cox family of Nevada bought up the island as well as 17 acres of mainland nearby. They hoped to build homes for their family members on both.

1998: The Boy Scouts make a comeback 

By the late 1990s, the Coxes had given up on building homes on Melita Island and the Boy Scouts approached them about using the island as a camp again. The Coxes agreed and by 2004, the Boy Scouts had reached a deal to buy the island from the Coxes. Unfortunately, they only raised $300,000 and thought their hopes of finally owning the island were dashed. However, at the last minute— an anonymous $1 million check arrived! With hope back in the hearts of the Boy Scouts, they rallied together to raise the other $200,000 and buy the island once and for all.

2019: Bringing new life to Melita Island

In the more recent past, dwarf mistletoe, bark beetle, and Tussock moth defoliation took a noticeable toll on the Melita Island ecosystem. During wind storms, large trees would topple from their diseased root systems and the Boy Scouts of America’s Montana Council began to worry about the safety of campers and the safety of the island’s unique ecosystem. In 2019, they decided to take action. They began removing weak and sickly Douglas fir trees while maintaining the old-growth Ponderosa pine— the signature tree of the island! Then, they began replanting local trees and shrubs. Organizers were able to plant over 100 native trees and shrubs

What’s next for Melita Island?

This beautiful Flathead Lake island is likely to continue making history as the years go on. One of the best ways to learn more about the island itself is to ask questions to a Go Sail Flathead Lake captain as you sail by on a charter! Our captains have plenty of information to share about Melita Island, Wild Horse Island, Cromwell Island, and other key landmarks on Flathead Lake! Learn more about booking a sailboat charter to see Melita Island and other Flathead Lake sights on the Go Sail website.