A quarter of a century for Outdoor Idaho! Not bad for a program that the show's creators, Peter Morrill and Royce Williams, predicted would last maybe five years, if it was lucky.
Well, the show has been lucky. It started out in 1983 as a co-production of IdahoPTV and the Department of Fish & Game. Within five years, Peter and Royce had gone on to other things, but the show had found its niche.
My personal involvement in the show was completely accidental. The original host, Doug Copsey, had a commitment he couldn't get out of, and they needed a fill-in host for one month. That was in 1985, and the stand-ups were shot at Bruneau Sand Dunes. I remember, because I wore my cowboy boots. Not my smartest move.
But by April of 1986, Peter and Royce had apparently forgotten that incident and gave me the job. My first assignment was Jump Creek, where I proceeded to get such a bad case of poison ivy in my eyes, that even my neighbors didn't recognize me. Contac lenses and poison ivy don't go well together, I discovered.
In 1990, Fish & Game decided to start its own program, and Idaho Public Television became the sole producer of Outdoor Idaho.
As with anything - including businesses and relationships - the trick is to keep things interesting and to persevere. Luckily, my colleagues have helped make that task easy. And having an incredibly diverse state has certainly helped, too. We've never run out of story ideas, and I don't think we ever will.
Through perseverance and almost by accident, we've created a video library of our state that is the envy of the West. And as we watch Idaho change, it only becomes more valuable.
A Fascination for the Country Life
Back in the '80's, one thing that seemed to separate me from a lot of my environmental friends was my fascination for ranchers and farmers. I never really saw them as the enemy. But some were obviously better stewards than others. They knew things my friends and I didn't know. And they usually lived around a lot of open space.
We did profiles of various ranching families - like the Chatburns in "A Ranch Family Album" - and stories about collaboration by federal officials and ranchers. One BLM scientist told me that ranchers know more about grasses than the ones managing the lands, because they don't move away every few years, like federal employees.
Personally, I saw ranching and agriculture as the first line of defense against the crush of out-of-staters and developers who started gobbling up the land in the '90's. Once you've planted a row of houses, that's the last crop that will be planted. It's End of Story for most wildlife.
The big issue facing Idaho right now seems to be an explosive population growth that threatens to change the Idaho we thought we knew, and massive amounts of money that can subvert the will of the average citizen. As more and more land is being bought up and fenced off from use by sportsmen, our public lands become more valuable. Perhaps that's why we don't see those "Wilderness: A Land of No Use" bumper stickers like we used to. People are starting to see that Idaho's public lands are a special gift, one that offers solace from the crowds.
I don't think there's a show that I haven't enjoyed working on . . . eventually. Maybe at the time, it wasn't as much fun as I thought it should be. But eventually, each show becomes a favorite, with its own set of memories.
Take for example, our show "Yellowstone in Winter." In January of 1991, with the temperature 20 below zero, Sauni Symonds and I arrived at the one place that prides itself on having no television sets, Old Faithful Lodge.
The first Gulf war had just begun. At night we gathered around a radio, listening to the invasion of Kuwait, much like our parents' generation did during World War II. And during the day we watched in awe as animals blended with humans in this classic mix of fire and ice.
Later that same year, we traveled into the Frank Church wilderness, for a show called "You Can't Get There From Here." We were searching for the old mining town of Roosevelt. The Thunder Mountain Gold Rush and the Dewey Mine had brought 7,000 miners to the area at the turn of the century.
But like most gold rushes, it was short lived, and by 1907 most miners had moved on. A year later a large mud slide dammed up Mule Creek just below the town, forming a lake. The town of Roosevelt disappeared under the water. The photo captured its slow descent.
When we arrived at the scene almost 100 years later, a rain storm had muddied the lake. One of the scuba divers did manage to find a board from one of the buildings. But that was all we saw. My mom was not impressed. She said it reminded her of Geraldo Rivera opening up Al Capone's vault.
In case you haven't noticed, there are a lot of folks who seem to have something against the 21st century . . . and the 19th and the 20th centuries, too, for that matter. We met a lot of them, for a show called "Back to the Past."
One of the things that amazed me about the modern day mountain men and renaissance re-enactors is how precise and detailed was their knowledge of how people used to live. There really was something to admire about their fascination with the past.
But my passion is for programs that tackle issues. And over the years, we've tackled a lot of them. In 2005 I got to come full circle with a show on northern Idaho's Silver Valley. One of my first assignments, before there even was an Outdoor Idaho, involved a shoot near Kellogg. The Bunker Hill mine had closed. The EPA had declared the region a Superfund site. The place was depressed economically and every other way. And some of the townspeople had just come up with a wacky idea to create the world's longest gondola connecting the valley to the top of the mountain. That was in the summer of 1983. Twenty two years later, we were glad to have that old footage for a show we called "Silver Valley Rising."
I think that particular show was the most controversial show I ever worked on - before it aired. There were emails flying back and forth between some pretty impassioned folks. In the Silver Valley, there are those who think the Superfund designation was unnecessary and those who think too little has been done to deal with the lead in the soils. Several individuals cancelled our television interviews, convinced that we were somehow trying to sabotage their efforts to warn the country of the dangers of lead poisoning.
After the show aired, the controversy surrounding the production disappeared. I like to think it's because all sides believed we did a credible job showing the dangers - and the opportunities - in Idaho's most historic valley.
Like a Box of Chocolates
There was a time, in the early '90's, when my involvement in each show was considerable. Now, it seems, I work on every third or fourth show that we complete. I'm still the host, and folks still see me at the beginning of each show, but the real work - of finding the interviews, doing the research, writing the script - is now shared by my talented colleagues. John Crancer is the lead producer, and Marcia Franklin, Joan Cartan-Hansen, and Jim Peck all contribute when time allows.
This is a good thing. It has made Outdoor Idaho more eclectic. You never really know what you're going to get. Maybe it's a show on women cyclists, or a show devoted to motorized recreation, or extreme sports, or kids connecting with the outdoors.
And we have a wonderful stable of incredibly talented director/videographer/editors, who make sure no one lowers the standards we set many years ago. Pat Metzler and Alberto Moreno, Chuck Cathcart and Jay Krajic and others shoot and edit our shows so well, that we've amassed an incredibly long list of awards, both regional and national. We had the highest standards in the business when we started 25 years ago. And we still do. If anything, we've only gotten better, as the cameras and editing equipment have improved.
Mountains and Water
When people ask me what I like most about Idaho, I find myself saying . . . the mountains and the water. And in a good year, like 2008, Idaho has plenty of both.
From an early age I was mesmerized by water . . . or maybe it was the fishing. In the 7th grade, I joined a weeklong 50 mile hike into the Sawtooth Mountains, organized by the Boise parks department. A bunch of us kids hiked through the heart of the Sawtooths, fishing in dozens of lakes. I was hooked. After that, I spent most summer weekends in and around Idaho's mountains. I think I've visited most of the mountain lakes in the Sawtooths. At the prodding of a few fishing buddies, I even gave up bait fishing! Hiking into an Idaho high mountain lake is something I never tire of doing.
It's always a good water year on "The River of No Return," at least for part of each summer, and once I learned how to oar a raft, there has been one river that beckons me time and again. The Middle Fork of the Salmon River is a perfect combination of mountains and water. For me, it's hard to imagine a more perfect vacation spot, in a state full of perfect places.
Hopefully, we captured some of that perfection in our 2007 show "A Middle Fork Journey," including the perfect storm in July of 2006 that completely blocked up Pistol Creek rapid with dead trees and debris.
I just happened to be on a private raft trip the morning of the logjam and was one of the first rafters to stumble onto the blockage that July morning. After talking with Forest Service folks, we decided to fly in a camera and document the event, as Forest Service crews used 150 pounds of well-placed dynamite to re-open the river. For some folks the logjam was a hassle. For the rest of us, it meant a few more days on the best river in America.
Watch "Dynamiting of the Pistol Creek logjam" (July, 2006)
Hi-bandwidth (watch here)
Lo-bandwidth (watch here)
Ultra-hi bandwidth (download)
It's been a pleasure and an honor to work on this home-grown show, Outdoor Idaho. Esto Perpetua. May she live forever.