Behind the Stories

“The Frank”

By Bruce Reichert
July 15, 2015

Fish Fin Ridge, Big Horn Crags. Photo by Bruce Reichert.

Outdoor Idaho's “The Frank” airs Thursday July 23 and Sunday July 26

Frank Church Wilderness near Elk Meadows. Photo by Jay KrajicHere's the thing that impressed me while researching the history of the Frank Church wilderness. It wasn't the politicians who were the prime movers, as it seems to be with, say, the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness proposal.

No, it was a small group of committed individuals, led by outdoorsman Ted Trueblood, who pushed for this wilderness. They came up with the boundaries as early as 1973, and then refused to budge from the 2.3 million acre number until their bill passed in 1980.

The major politicians of the day — most notably, Democrats Senator Frank Church and Governor Cecil Andrus and Republican Senator James McClure — thought that locking up that much acreage was just not going to fly.

Senator Frank Church, courtesy Boise State University Albertson Library Special Collections
U.S. Senator Frank Church.
“It was a case of sort of training the politicians, to bring them along,” historian Dennis Baird told us. He was a member of the River of No Return Wilderness Council, the prime movers of this particular wilderness bill. “Unlike the case of many wilderness areas, this one got bigger over time in the eyes of the politicians. That's maybe one of the great miracles of the fight for the River of No Return. It didn't shrink. It got just a little bigger in every iteration.”

Another thing that impressed me was the generosity that Republican Senator Jim McClure showed to his colleague Democrat Frank Church. After Church was defeated in 1980 — in part because of his support for the River of No Return wilderness — and as he was dying from cancer, Senator McClure asked his Senate colleagues to rename the area the Frank Church River of No Return wilderness.

President Reagan signed the name change into law in 1984, a few weeks before Church's death. What a gracious thing to do and one of those bipartisan gestures that, unfortunately, you don't hear much about these days.

For our program, some of us hiked into the Bighorn Crags area of the Frank. And two of my friends took small cameras and hiked from the western side of the Frank to the eastern side, a journey of about 60 miles. You'll see some of their trek in our show.

Jeff Fereday, Ernie Day, and Dennis Baird testifying in Washington D.C. in 1979. Courtesy Jeff Fereday.
Jeff Fereday, Ernie Day, and Dennis Baird testify in Washington, D.C. in 1979.
Hiking is great, but in some parts of this wilderness, it's best to fly in or to travel by jetboat; and Frank Church knew that. As he wrote in a 1979 letter to a constituent, “I make no apologies for my commitment to assuring that this spectacular area can be seen and enjoyed, whether the access is by horseback, on foot, via jetboat, or small plane.”

Both Church and Ted Trueblood wanted people to be able to use and enjoy the area. I'm guessing they would have had a hard time with some of the purists of today who are emphatic about no airplanes or jetboats in the Frank.

Pistol Creek campsite, MiddleFork of the Salmon. Photo by Bruce Reichert
Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
One other impressive thing about the Frank: its size. Whether you float the 100 miles of the Middle Fork or the 85 mile wilderness section of the Main Salmon; or whether you hike into Ship Island Lake in the Bighorn Crags, you have merely scratched the surface. In this majestic landscape, wild animals can live their entire lives without ever seeing a human. It's that big.

“I think this is something the nation looks at as their magical wilderness,” said biologist Isaac Babcock, after spending a year in the Frank. “Things happen all over the place out there, these really unexpected things, and you can't see that anywhere in the world anymore.”

And certainly part of the “magic” of the Frank has to be that it even happened at all. “The right people came together at the right time,” explained attorney Jeff Fereday. “There was certainly serendipity there.”

How else to explain the largest forested wilderness in the lower 48, in a conservative state like Idaho?


Ted Trueblood and Cabin Creek in Frank Church Wilderness. Courtesy Boise State University Albertson Library Special Collections and Richard Holm respectively.
Ted Trueblood and Cabin Creek airstrip in the Frank Church wilderness.

My Father’s Idaho

By Marcia Franklin
June 11, 2015

filming in the Idaho backcountry.
Audus “Red” Helton filming in the Idaho backcountry
One day Rifka Helton asked her father what she thought was an innocuous question.

I said, “Dad, don't you have some slides or something?”

And he said, “Daughter, dear, you know not what you ask.”

It turns out that her father, Audus “Red” Helton, had thousands of slides and films he had taken of Idaho in the 1950s and 60s. They were shot while he traveled the state as a plant pathologist and professor for the University of Idaho, and during family trips into the backcountry.

“I needed a camera right from the beginning to record the shape and size of symptoms in the leaves,” says Red.

Kids Roped Together.  Photo by Rifka Helton.
The slides had been lovingly preserved in metal cases, and meticulously labeled.

“I started taking them up and holding them up to the light, and I knew,” said Helton. “I mean, I knew in seconds. It's gold.”

For her, the images represented a bygone era that shouldn’t be forgotten, one in which families hiked, camped, rode horses and talked together, without the need for technology.

“We didn't drive Winnebagos and big huge rigs to go camping with satellite dishes,” she says. “We carried our stuff in, you know, and we walked. Let’s not forget this little piece of history when we used to gather our sticks in the woods and build our own little fires.”

Horses in the Snow.
So began a decade-long labor of love for Helton. A singer and musician, she decided the best way to bring the photos and their themes to wider audience was to set them to original songs in a performance piece she calls “My Father's Idaho.”

“I have this feeling that if we knew our history better we might be smarter,” says Rifka. “I think the art of historical storytelling, multimedia with music, is really a powerful experience.”

Helton projects the photos on a screen while she sings and plays the piano and guitar. She has also turned some of the images into notecards, and enlarged versions of many of the photos are also hanging in the Glenns Ferry Historical Museum.

Red and Rifka.
“Red” Helton and daughter Rifka, 1963
We've been thinking about a potential Outdoor Idaho show called “History Keepers,” so Rifka and Red's story seemed a good fit for that. Videographer Jay Krajic and I interviewed Red in his home in Bonners Ferry, and videographer Dave Butler and I taped one of Rifka's performances at the Glenns Ferry museum outside at night.

We're still looking for more stories for the show, so if you know of other Idahoans who are doing their part to be “history keepers,” especially preserving stories of the Idaho outdoors, please let us know.

For his part, Red is proud of his daughter's efforts to save and share his photos.

Rifka Helton
Rifka Helton
“I'm surprised that she gave birth to the project. But I think it's a great thing, and I think it's good to let people know there is another way, particularly with families with young children. Childhood obesity is a national epidemic right now, and I don't think it would be if kids exercised as they did when I was a kid. That's the way life was. Life's not like that now and I think it's tragic.”

To watch “History Keepers: My Father's Idaho,” click here.

For more information on Rifka Helton's project, click here.

Red then and now.
Audus “Red” Helton, Ph.D.

Photos courtesy of Rifka Helton


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