Sometimes you think you know everything about an old friend. Such is the case with the Boise River. My image of it is a lazy summer afternoon, with people floating through cottonwoods, traveling down its crystal clear waters. All of this amidst Idaho's largest city. Simply amazing.
Over the years, I have traveled along sections, but never in a way that allowed me to see the river completely. There is so much more to it, beyond what we see each day. In fact, I'd venture to say that the Boise is the state's best known Idaho river that few have fully experienced, including me.
It is the dominant, life-giving source for this region of Idaho. It also helps shape the personality of the capitol city. If the foothills provide the backdrop, then the Boise must be its liquid soul. So, when the chance came to volunteer to shoot video and explore from its namesake to its headwaters, I readily agreed.
The project began in late August, when friend Rick Gerrard and I drove the 80 bone-jarring dirt miles, to film the river from Boise to Atlanta, Idaho. There we met up with an Outdoor Idaho crew led by Executive Producer Bruce Reichert and Videographer/Director Jay Krajic. Our group then hiked 16 miles to Spangle Lakes, the headwaters of the Boise River, in the heart of the Sawtooth Wilderness. All this work was to gather video for a new, one hour documentary entitled “Idaho Headwaters,” premiering December 6, on Idaho Public Television.
What surprises me most about this remarkable river are the personalities it reveals... and the challenges it faces. Alpine stream, classically clear Idaho river, deep blue reservoir, urban wildlife habitat, and sadly, over-worked resource.
From its genesis in the rock formations at 9,000 feet around Spangle Lakes, its water quickly picks up volume as it descends past Flytrip, Rock and Mattingly creeks, to the historic mining town of Atlanta. There it meets the first of many dams and diversions. The flow continues through deep canyons, past mining claims, to the reservoirs of Arrowrock, Lucky Peak, Diversion and Barber Pool, before it passes gracefully through the city of Boise. From there, the river’s personality evolves into an over-worked resource, with its final 60 mile drive to its confluence with the Snake.
The 120-plus mile length of the Boise River isn't much compared to the Salmon or the Snake, whose distances are measured in hundreds and thousands of miles. But what it lacks in size, the Boise excels in sheer natural beauty and life-sustaining qualities benefiting the state and region.
After working on the Headwater's project, I know that I will never look at this remarkable river, this old friend, in quite the same way again.
Here'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.
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.
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.
“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 airstrip in the Frank Church wilderness.