Laughter rings off the canyon walls. Giggling kids float downstream, bobbing along next to the boat. The sound of oars breaking through water sets a rhythmic background tune.

Ponderosas stand tall on sagebrush canyon walls, a blue summer sky fills the space between. For the umpteenth time, I’m reminded how incredibly lucky I am to experience and share Idaho’s Salmon River.

The wild Salmon River is one of Idaho’s greatest treasures. As a guide on the Salmon, I witness visitors from all over the country fall in love with the place.

It convinces them to return as tourists to Idaho, to support Idaho businesses in towns like McCall, Salmon, and Riggins and to take a stake in the protection of Idaho and our nation’s wild places. Many businesses and guides like myself rely on the Salmon running clean and wild for our incomes.

Midas Gold’s proposed mining project at the headwaters of the South Fork of the Salmon jeopardizes a very special piece of Idaho and the livelihoods built around it. This mining site threatens water quality for the South Fork and the lower 135 miles of the Salmon River.

Midas’s mining activities would contaminate groundwater and require construction of a water treatment facility. A tailings storage facility would consume over 400 acres and fill upper Meadow Creek, a wild stream, with up to 100 million tons of mining waste.

Any failure could be totally detrimental to hundreds of miles of pristine river downstream. Consider the 2015 catastrophe on the Animas River in Colorado. Imagine yourself as a Colorado taxpayer, forced to foot the bill for the clean up. When things go wrong in the headwaters, as they inevitably do, the whole river suffers.

Despite Midas Gold’s campaigns claiming they will “Restore the Site,” they are here for the gold. Be skeptical of claims made by those profiting – do your own research too!

It’s hard to put a price on the value of a free-flowing and clean river. There’s an infectious joy about it, one that’s hard to find the right words for.

I became a river guide to help people experience the wonder of a river canyon. The wild rivers we have in Idaho are special. People travel from far and wide, bringing money into the state, to experience our clean, free-flowing rivers. Idahoans are incredibly lucky to have this experience in their backyards.

We all use the metals that are mined. But the headwaters of the South Fork, draining to the lower 135 miles of the Salmon River, in a Wild and Scenic corridor, is not a place for this type of mining.

No amount of precautions can be taken by Midas Gold or the Forest Service to safely construct and operate this type of open pit cyanide vat leach mine in these precious headwaters. Do not allow a Canadian mining company to profit off our land and pollute our water.

Submit your comments to the Forest Service by Oct. 28. Support groups who are standing up for the South Fork Salmon River. Do your part to protect one of Idaho’s greatest treasures, the Salmon River.

Nicole Cordingley lives in Stanley

Originally printed in the McCall Star-News on Oct. 8, 2020. To subscribe to the Star-News, click here.