Editor’s note: This posting was authored by Lexi Black. Lexi is a Wood River Valley native who created a project to help “Keep Idaho Wild.” Here, she tells the story of the project and how it helps to protect and celebrate Idaho’s wilderness. You can find Lexi’s project at keepidahowild.com.
I was eleven years old when I first went backpacking. Sun Valley’s Community School offers a three-day excursion for grades 6-12 in a tradition known as Fall Campout. I was assigned to Kane Lake in the Pioneer Range for my first Fall Campout-a relatively grueling hike (3.4 miles, 1,717 feet of elevation gain) for a hundred-pound sixth grader carrying a pack that weighed roughly a third of my body weight. I struggled my way up so slowly and so far behind the rest of the group that by the time I stopped for lunch the senior boys had already made it to the lake, set up their tent and come back down to take my pack for me. Pretty thoroughly embarrassed at that point, my outlook for the trip as whole started looking dimmer and dimmer-until I finally reached the lake.
Kane Lake is one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in the Pioneers. Perched in a large glacial basin rimmed with vaulting, waterfall-strewn cliff faces, Kane Lake glimmers a bright shade of aqua in the shadows of the massive rock walls around it. The northern edge of the lake is covered in a mix of grass meadow and scattered pine forest, adding a vibrant swatch of green to the otherwise blue and grey landscape. I’d never been so taken aback by my surroundings before-I was literally dumbfounded by the powerful serenity of the place right up until the last day. I distinctly remember looking back at the basin as we left and thinking, "I’ve found my sanctuary. It’s in places like this."
Between the Community School’s outdoor program and my summers packed full of mountain adventures with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation, my obsession soon grew into an addiction. The wilderness became my place to run to for adventure, adrenaline and danger-yet simultaneously for peace, clarity and answers. I continue to swear by the principles of returning to nature and exposing yourself to forces beyond the human world-it’s my spiritual cure-all.
However, having grown up in close proximity to all this, I took it somewhat for granted-until I left for boarding school in New Hampshire my sophomore year. Beginning to realize just how much my home had to offer, how much I missed out on, and how much I still had yet to see, I found myself in hyperdrive every break. I spent almost more time out in the woods with friends than with my empty-nest parents. In March of 2015, the back end of my junior year, I didn’t make it home for spring break. Sitting at my grandparents’ dining room table in Naples, Fla., I doodled mountains incessantly in the back of a notebook. Looking over my shoulder, my mom pointed to one of the designs. "That’s cool. You should print something like that on shirts and sell them-I bet you’d make a lot of money."
She said it off-handedly, but the idea stuck with me-what if I did start a t-shirt business? It’d look great on my college application, for starters. Also, it’s an added excuse to draw-something that I loved doing but had never considered pursuing. What would I do with the money? I didn’t really need it. I could give it to a charity-something relating to the designs, maybe? What wilderness-oriented charities did I know? It suddenly became a no-brainer to connect with the Idaho Conservation League-not only would I raise money for something I’m passionate about, but for the very place that installed that passion within me to begin with.
By the time summer rolled around, I hit the ground running. I began creating specifically Idaho-related drawings-images of mountains, salmon and elk. I finalized designs, worked with a graphic designer, set some publicity work in motion, and began putting in orders for shirts and baseball hats printed with my designs. I then began the never-ending accounting work: I got a bank account up and running, created every sort of form you can imagine (profit/loss forms, order forms, inventory forms, projected income forms), and came up with a plan to pay off the loan my parents had generously put forward to my cause. Finally, I got a website up and running-keepidahowild.com-and I began selling. The project Keep Idaho Wild was fully set into motion.
I spent the months of July and August selling Keep Idaho Wild apparel, embarking on my own outdoor adventures under the excuse of doing promotional work, and watching the response to my project unfold. I began to find that the most exciting element of the project was not just raising money for an organization that does incredible work (such as two brand-new, presidentially-approved wilderness areas), but the fact that Keep Idaho Wild actually spreads the very excitement for the outdoors that was its inspiration. The project encourages no-impact, wilderness-friendly recreation, and sparks dialogue about local conservation issues.
I’m so grateful that I’ve gotten the opportunity to give back to a place so important to me. Thank you to everyone who has supported me-so many gave their free time and energy to help me with this project. Thank you to the Idaho Conservation League for reciprocating the excitement about the project; thank you to my parents for immediately jumping on board with this idea; thank you to all who have supported the project by buying merchandise or donating. Thank you to everyone who has helped in any way to protect the sanctuary I share with countless others-my local wilderness.