In the eyes of many, my career revolves around the White Cloud Mountains. While I’m proud of many different things in conservation, my time in the White Clouds is a story spanning 30 years – beginning with my first hike into those amazing mountains as a volunteer activist and continuing to the Oval Office as President Obama signed the Boulder-White Clouds bill into law.
That story would never have started were it not for a generation of conservationists before me who rallied to stop a mine at the base of Castle Peak in the White Cloud Mountains. That fight became the singular issue in the 1970 governor’s race. Cecil Andrus opposed the mine and was elected governor of Idaho. He later became Secretary of Interior and, among many other things, leveraged protection of over 100 million acres of Alaska.
With passage of the Sawtooth National Recreation Act in 1972, the mine was stopped, but the job wasn’t finished until designation of the White Clouds Wilderness in 2015. As I stepped out of the White House Oval Office, Gov. Cecil Andrus was the first phone call I made. "We finally got it done, Governor."
Castle Peak, the "mountain that made a governor," as Andrus often said, is also part of Rep. Mike Simpson’s story. The trail Simpson traveled to pass that wilderness bill was twisted and long. It spanned 15 years and included 10 separate bills introduced in Congress. As in any epic journey, he was shaped by it. He started working there to solve problems for others, but after many of his own trips into the White Clouds he was captured by the place.
Simpson then recognized the work of Andrus to help stop the mine by legislatively renaming the White Clouds Wilderness. The Cecil D. Andrus White Clouds Wilderness was named by Congress in early 2018.
It’s in this context that I was delighted to get a call inviting me to help organize a trip into the White Clouds for Andrus’ daughters Kelly and Tracy, and granddaughter Morgan. While Cecil Andrus was a highly accomplished outdoorsman and hunted in the area, his daughters had not seen Castle Peak or been in the White Clouds. In early July, we made that happen.
Ed Cannady, a U.S. Forest Service ranger and long-time friend of ICL and Rep. Simpson, made sure we all got the best view at the peak of wildflower season. An early flat tire or high-country smoke didn’t slow us down, and after climbing Railroad Ridge we enjoyed a lunch at 10,000 feet. Castle Peak loomed to the south. Elk with calves ranged below us. Pronghorn antelope bounded across the high country. The flowers were magical.
Ed and I never tire of showing off one of our favorite places in Idaho. The views were magnificent, but the treasure for us was the stories of what it was like growing up as daughters of Cecil Andrus. Kelly was born two weeks before Andrus was first elected to the Idaho Legislature. Their father, in their experience, had always been shared with Idaho’s citizens.
The two spoke of visiting their father’s grave this past winter. As they stood in Pioneer Cemetery, Andrus’ three daughters laughingly suggested to their dad that the dusty mountain goat head long mounted on the family cabin wall, a trophy shot by Andrus in the Boulder Mountains, might have to go. Right then a gust of wind blew in and knocked snow from a tree on all three of their heads. The goat stayed.
As Tracy wrote me after the trip, "I truly felt Dad’s presence in the mountains, in the elk herds below, and in the wind that flew through. I’ve always thought of Dad as a force of nature. Yesterday was a confirming experience."
I’ll always treasure my time working with Cece Andrus.
His legacy is found many places, including Castle Peak in the White Cloud Mountains. His work continues today with the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University where I’m pleased to serve on the board. This fall is the Center’s Women in Leadership conference. Next spring we’ll host a major conference on Energy and Salmon.