The following is an excerpt from my book:
Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced: pond-ə-ray), located in Idaho’s panhandle region, is thought to be the home of a lake monster dubbed the Paddler. Lake Pend Oreille is Idaho’s largest lake; it is immense in its area and reaches incredible depths. The lake, formed by the glacial activity of the last ice age, is about 148 square miles in surface area, and over 40 miles long. Lake Pend Oreille reaches depths of 1,150 feet, making it the 5th deepest lake in the United States.
Many folks would be surprised to learn that the United States Navy has a presence in the landlocked state of Idaho. However, this is exactly the case; Lake Pend Oreille is an invaluable resource for the Navy’s submarine fleet.
Shortly after the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy set up operations on Lake Pend Oreille. Farragut Naval Training Station was established in Bayview in 1942, and over 30,000 recruits went through their basic training there. During its height, Farragut was the Navy’s second largest training facility. This would be short-lived; Farragut Naval Training Station was decommissioned at the conclusion of the war. However, the Navy maintained a remnant of the facility for its Acoustic Research Detachment.1
At this time, the Navy maintains a fleet of 71 submarines. Obviously, stealth—the ability to avoid detection—is among the most important assets for a submarine. Submarines must go through a multitude of tests and studies to ensure their sound signature allows for optimum stealth. This is where the Acoustic Research Attachment in Bayview, Idaho comes in; it is the Navy’s premiere acoustic laboratory, where large-scale model submarines (1/5 size and greater) are tested in every conceivable way. The use of large-scale models enables the Navy to refine and fine-tune the designs of its submarines at a fraction of the cost of testing on full-scale vessels.2
Lake Pend Oreille offers the Navy an ideal location to conduct its testing. At depths exceeding 300 feet, the lake maintains a constant temperature of about 39.5 degrees year round. The consistent water temperature ensures that tests are repeatable and not affected by fluctuating temperatures. In addition, the lake also has a flat, muddy bottom which significantly reduces the reflection of sound waves. To be as large as it is, Lake Pend Oreille is very calm, another asset that helps produce repeatable test results.3 In short, the environment that the lake provides closely mimics that of the open sea, giving the Navy an excellent location to conduct its experiments.
It should come as a surprise to no one that rumors have swirled around the Navy’s presence on Lake Pend Oreille since they first began operations on the lake. It has been suggested that in the 1940s the Navy secretly harbored German prisoners of war at the facility. Some have accused the Navy of using the POWs to train American submariners to fight against the Japanese—a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.4
Rumors of the United States Navy engaging in nefarious activity stretches beyond the concealment and misuse of POWs. The Navy has been accused of the operation of manned submersible watercraft, and even demolition tests. At one point there were even concerns that the Navy was operating nuclear submarines and had vessels armed with nuclear torpedoes in the lake.5 Lake Pend Oreille, at its southern end, drains into an aquifer which provides water to Spokane, Washington and Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. Obviously, explosives testing and nuclear weaponry in the lake would be a huge concern for residents who rely on the lake for their drinking water.
Though conspiracies abound, evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Navy is lacking. However, as always, secrecy fuels rumors and speculation. One of the strangest rumors coming from Lake Pend Oreille is that the Navy might be using a lake monster story as cover for its operations.
A Brilliant Cover Story?
Interestingly enough, Lake Pend Oreille does not have a very long history of lake monster sightings. Cryptid sightings were unheard of on the lake—that is, not until 1944,6 after the Navy had established its presence there. Coincidence? Perhaps, but probably not. There are two schools of thought: what people are seeing in Lake Pend Oreille is a product of the Navy’s operations; or, the Navy planted the lake monster story as a diversion.
James McLeod, who has researched the Lake Pend Oreille phenomenon extensively, believes that the Navy started the lake monster stories, and then ridiculed them as a cover for their activities. The thought is, that by doing this, anyone who sees anything peculiar on the lake and reports it will be “regarded as a little nuts.”7
The first reports of something strange in Lake Pend Oreille occurred in 1944, but after the initial activity, things were quiet until August 1949 when the Spokane Chronicle reported that three people in Bayview observed a “sea serpent” through binoculars for a period of about 15 minutes. The animal had a light head and dark green body. It left a wake about 15 feet long.8
There was another documented sighting in 1950. This time, two fishermen claimed to see a dark, scaly creature that was an estimated 20-30 feet in length. It leaped in and out of the water and moved with the speed of a medium-sized outboard motor.9
The creature was spotted several times in the 1970s and very weird things were reported on the lake. Large shadows were being observed underwater and large objects were being picked up on radar. There were instances of boats being mysteriously “pulled” and heavy fishing lines being snapped. Fish and Game officials began noticing large blips on their sonar equipment. The blips were at depths of 500-600 feet—far deeper than the range of trout and other species of gamefish in the lake.10
Paddler sightings continued into the 1980s. In June of 1981, two fishermen observed an undulating body 15-20 feet in length. It was described as serpentine in appearance and grayish-silver in color.11 In May 1985, Julie Green was boating with friends when they noticed a v-shaped wake caused by an object moving faster than their boat. Whatever they saw was dark gray in color.12
In the late 1990s, researcher Patrick Huyghe interviewed George Guedel, the civilian director of the Acoustic Research Detachment. Huyghe wanted to know if during the Navy’s activities on the lake if they had seen Paddler. Guedel said, “We wouldn’t pay much attention unless it was noisy.” By “noisy” Guedel was referring to sound signatures, the types of sounds that the navy monitors during submarine testing. Interestingly, Guedel went on to say that there had been occurrences of noises interfering with equipment that could not be explained.13 Could Paddler be responsible for those noises?
It would seem that Paddler is more likely than not a product of naval operations on the lake—either a cover story to help disguise activity that some would deem suspect or Paddler sightings are simply test vessels, usually in the form of large-scale submarine models and torpedo models.
It has also been suggested that Paddler sightings can be attributed to sturgeons, the massive prehistoric-looking fish with armor-like scales. The problem with this hypothesis, though, is that sturgeons do not inhabit the lake, at least not officially. However, it would not be outside the realm of possibility for a small population of sturgeons to have been placed in the lake—probably by fisherman.14
Between the possibility of sturgeons in the lake and the naval testing, we have a good explanation for the Paddler. This doesn’t mean, though, that a serpentine creature couldn’t exist in the vast lake. Admittedly, though, if a cryptid did exist in the lake, it is quite a coincidence that it was not seen until the 1940s.