By Joan Cartan-Hansen
The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, or as we know it, The Frank Church Wilderness, is spectacularly diverse. Its elevation varies from 2,000 to 10,000 feet. It is home to 370 species of mammals and birds. Airstrips, grazing, even mining co-exist in this wilderness area. The Frank Church Wilderness is one of the most accessible wilderness areas in the country and yet, because of its vast size, it is a place where you can quickly feel quite alone.
The first segment looks at the political history of this area and the man who helped preserve it. Frank Church accomplished many things in his career, things that touch the lives of every American even today, almost 20 years after his death. Sadly, most Americans and even many Idahoans do not know who he was. Frank and Bethine Church were friends of my parents. And as I grew up, I came to appreciate both of them. He faced strong opposition during his career , but even his strongest detractors would agree he changed the face of Idaho and played a significant role in U.S. history. I hope to tell their story in a longer form documentary some day. But, just as this segment's aerial photography gives you an overview of the Frank Church Wilderness, the first segment of this program will tell you a little bit about the man and his accomplishments.
The second segment looks at Taylor Ranch, the most remote year-round residence in the lower 48. This isolated spot in the middle of the Frank Church is home to an incredible amount of activity. Jim and Holly Akenson teach a band of college students to live and learn in a wilderness area. It is indeed "the wildest classroom in America." These intelligent and generous students give up television, hot showers and McDonalds for a chance to learn more than they could ever find on campus: wondrous scientific opportunities, challenges to their physical and spiritual selves and more starry skies than any one human could remember. They all agree they gain far more than they give up.
This segment was fun to produce. Videographer Tom Hadzor and I had the pleasure of standing close enough to a black bear to be "huffed at." It really does make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Jim and Holly Akenson and their students were kind hosts and I appreciate their hospitality. Taylor Ranch is a beautiful place. If you ever have the chance and don't mind landing on a back country airstrip, dodging the bears, you should go.
The next segment in the program takes viewers along to track wolves. It is a challenge to produce a story about a creature you only see and learn about from dents in the sand or entrails scattered in the grass. Trackers use a skill as old as humankind and combine it with today's advanced computer technology.
The trackers from the Wilderness Awareness School made me think about things in a completely different manner. Listen for the birds. Smell the ground. Read the landscape. Next time you go in your back yard, look again. You will be amazed.
Finally the show ends with a llama pack into the Frank Church Wilderness. No scientific research. No ongoing conflict. Just a glimpse of what you would experience you joined Gary and Sharon on a backcountry trip. It is a joyous trip.
That is what Frank Church hoped we would find. He came here as a boy and was touched by its wonder. Preserving this land as a wilderness area, with all of its many uses, was one way to make sure it would always be there for the rest of us to enjoy.
No producer's note about this program would be complete without thanking the many people who helped make it happen. Alan Austin did a wonderful job editing and directing the program as well as shooting the tracking piece. He got up before sunrise to follow wolves and spent hours on end finding the just the right piece of music. I do appreciate his fine work and good company. Taylor Ranch piece videographer Tom Hadzor was a joy to work with as well. It is tough to capture the grandeur and intimacy of a place, but Tom did it with style. Host Bruce Reichert gave me the room to create the program, but was still there with advice when I needed it. John Crancer, Jim Peck, Jeff Tucker, Kelly Roberts, Morgan Dethman, Stephanie Dickey, Lee Henkel all contriubted their talents to the show and this web site. Idaho Public Television is blessed with an talented production team and an incredible staff. Thank you everyone. I hope you enjoy the program and this web site.