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Doug Tims outfitted on the Selway River and the Middle Fork of the Salmon; he also served as president of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, and the national America Outdoors Association. He and his wife Phyllis live part of each year along the banks of the Salmon River, at Campbell’s Ferry, where they have been renovating the historic site. You can read about their experiences in their book, Merciless Eden. This interview was conducted in 2016 at Campbell’s Ferry.
Why should anyone care about the outfitting industry?
I think one of the most important roles that outfitters and guides play is, they provide that cadre of wilderness-minded citizens. You know, it is good enough for many people to know it's there, but the real champions of places like that, the folks who in future years are going to stand up and say, ‘Yes, we want to continue to save these places,’ they're the folks that have been there and touched it in a very special way. Outfitting and guiding gives them that opportunity.
I had a woman once tell me that she got out of her tent in the middle of the night and looked up at the canopy of stars over her head, and her soul expanded. And that soul-expanding experience goes home with people and allows them to be the champions for wild places in the future.
So what challenges do you see for the outfitting industry in the foreseeable future?
I think the biggest challenge that outfitting and guiding faces in the future is the changes in the American public. And young people today in this digital world, they're seeing not the real natural world; they're seeing just simulations of it.
And we have to play the role of taking those young people out here and showing them what it really is about, what it really means to spend the night next to one of these beautiful rivers, to look at that canopy of stars above, and understand how important it is that we maintain places like this.
So keeping alive that constituency and support of wild places, that's our biggest challenge, and that's what needs to be our biggest role.
What role did Outfitters play in the creation of the River of No Return wilderness?
When Frank Church needed someone to take people out here, key decision-makers, members of Congress, to show them what it is we were fighting for here, he turned to outfitter Norm Guth to do that.
Norm Guth took President Jimmy Carter down the Middle Fork in 1978, two years before the Central Idaho Wilderness Act was passed. Carter went back, and the government's position on how big the Frank ought to be changed dramatically, almost doubled the size. And we ended up getting even more of that in the final version of the bill.
We’re here at Campbell’s Ferry along the Salmon River. What role did this place play in getting people through this country?
Campbell's Ferry was first settled in 1897. One of the interesting things about the place is it has seen the transition in our public lands from public domain to forest reserves to national forest, primitive area to wilderness and wild and scenic. All the lands around here have been all of those, and so it has played a role in that. We're kind of the edge. We're where civilization stopped.
But then it's also the story of all the people who came here and tried to make a go of it. It was just absolutely merciless on them. It took a toll, the number of people that died in many ways, from drownings to loss in snowstorms, that died in childbirth, the horse accidents. It took a tremendous toll on those early pioneers to try and settle a place like this.
But it's truly here because Campbell's Ferry was the northern route into what is now the Frank Church Wilderness. It was the people trying to come from the north, trying to get to the Thunder Mountain Gold Strike in 1898. And so when William Campbell came in here, he built a trail from here to the mine, and he put a ferry across the river. And that's why this place was here.
(The following is excerpted from correspondence between Doug Tims and Bruce Reichert, in 2016:)
I often say that the mission of outfitting is the same as the Forest Service: “Caring for the Land and Serving People.” The mission statement of IOGA is “Committed to the conservation and enhancement of quality outdoor experiences on Idaho’s lands and waters.” We also often say “Clean free flowing streams, quality wildlife habitat and reasonable regulations are the lifeblood of outfitting.” And one of my favorites is “Outfitters are the present day reservoir of the skills and knowledge that first allowed early explorers and pioneers to access America’s wild places.”
The vast majority of the public lacks the skill, knowledge and equipment to visit and sustain themselves in wilderness settings, so it is appropriate that the management structure for wild lands includes what is necessary to provide a professional infrastructure to deliver those services. It is good that this infrastructure ends up being an excellent contributor to the economic fabric of small towns in rural Idaho.
The way the Wilderness Act states this need is “Commercial services may be performed within the wilderness areas designated by this Act to the extent necessary for activities which are proper for realizing the recreational or other wilderness purposes of the areas.” Often the focus of that statement is on recreation, but in truth, outfitting connects the public with all the six purposes the law states for wilderness: recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation and historical use.
I have always been proud of IOGA’s diversity and leadership in helping bring the industry together nationally. Where many states have outfitter groups that represent components of outfitting, IOGA has long represented all outfitting services to the public, whether delivered on the back of a horse, in a raft, at a guest ranch or one of the myriad of recreational activities like snow skiing, backpacking, hiking, climbing, etc. When the national organization came together in 1990 it was in many ways modeled after IOGA.
Finally, the experience that the public has while on an outfitted trip is critical to outfitting’s long term success. As taught to me by my friend Richard Clark, our guests go through a “freeze, thaw, freeze” process during an extended trip into the wilderness. During the thaw period we have an opportunity to educate them and help them find an expanded way of looking at the natural world. We help them connect to nature, find refuge from the challenges and burdens of modern life, experience challenge and risk, build new skills, and find a sense of community with their fellow travelers.