Idaho Conservation League members, volunteers and staff recently ventured to Vineyard Lake to pick up trash and learn about the state of the Snake River as it flows through southern Idaho. 

Vineyard Lake is nestled within the dark black walls of a 2-million-year-old basalt and is a true hidden treasure of the Snake River Canyon. It was carved out by the great Bonneville Flood nearly 14,500 years ago, when an enormous Ice Age lake in the area of present Great Salt Lake in Utah released a massive flow of water into the Snake River watershed, flowing the same course as the Snake follows today. Flood waters east of Twin Falls were rerouted north of the Snake River Canyon, leaving a trail of scoured basalt behind. This stretch of basalt is still dotted with remnants of flood waters, housing natural beauties like Vineyard Lake, Devils Corral, Shoshone Falls and Twin Falls.

Vineyard Lake amidst the towering walls of basalt, carved by the Snake River over 14,000 years ago.

Despite being somewhat isolated, Vineyard Lake still sees high numbers of visitors, especially in warmer months – and the land is feeling the impact. Unfortunately, trash often speckles the landscape. As Idaho continues to see an influx in population and visitors, recreating responsibly is more important than ever.

To help take care of this special place, about 15 volunteers from different parts of the state joined ICL for a trip to clean up the lake. Suited up with gloves and trash bags, we began our hike through a farmer’s field who graciously allows public access to the lake. On the cool, breezy day, the owners of the farm were planting beans as grazing cattle lazily munched on grass. 

Cows seemed unperturbed by the cleanup crew on the way to Vineyard Lake.

After a short walk, we approached the canyon rim. The dark basalt paved the way for a steep descent into the canyon to the shores of Vineyard Lake. The further we climbed down, the more full our trash bags became. Trash was stashed in between boulders large and small. Our volunteers were eager to collect trash, with beautiful Vineyard Lake providing a scenic backdrop for the cleanup.

ICL staff and volunteers pick up trash on the hike to Vineyard Lake.

We continued toward the lake, grabbing trash and dodging poison ivy plants the whole way down (long pants are a must if you visit).

“Historic” trash found near Vineyard Lake.

Beer cans and bottles, snack wrappers and other beverage containers  – including a lot of broken glass – were the most popular items we found, however more exciting finds from the day included an old football, a sock, a cooler and a vintage 7UP can.

While some trash was along the trail, most was hidden or stashed between rocks or in bushes – places that seemingly required more effort to hide the trash than it would’ve been taken to simply pack it out! 

Once gathered at the lake, we ate our lunches and heard from ICL’s Senior Conservation Associate Josh Johnson, who presented on the geologic history of the lake, the threats to the Snake River’s water quality, and how ICL is working to restore the river. Three raptors circled above us as we talked, serving as a reminder that our work also benefits the wildlife of this region.

ICL staff and volunteers discuss threats facing the Snake River in southern Idaho.

After lunch, we carried our full trash bags back up out of the canyon. We stopped at the edge of the Snake River Canyon to enjoy the view – waterfalls flowed out of the high basaltic canyon walls and into the majestic Snake River rolled on, hundreds of feet below us.

After taking in the beauty of the Snake, the cleanup crew headed back to the trailhead. We cleaned up about 150 pounds of trash at Vineyard Lake in just a few short hours, and appreciate the volunteers who joined us to help clean up a hidden treasure of southern Idaho. 

After seeing the work that needed to be done at a small, remote lake, it’s difficult to fathom the negative impacts humans can have on larger, more public areas. The Snake River is not only facing threats from individual recreationalists, but also big industries, which exacerbate pollution issues. 

Members of ICL’s Snake River team on a hike to Vineyard Lake. Lauren Noeker, Stevie Gawryluk, and Josh Johnson.

ICL serves as a voice for the protection and restoration of the Snake River, and works to connect people and communities to the river in an effort to ensure it has a healthy future. You can be part of our work! Take action today to voice your concerns regarding the health of this essential river to our elected representatives to help us return the Snake River to safe, swimmable, and drinkable conditions.

If you’d like to stay connected to ongoing opportunities to stand up for the Snake, sign up for our Snake River campaign email updates here. Together, we will restore the Snake River in Idaho.