Why wilderness? Why wild and scenic? These two questions consistently rolled in and out of conversations-and our collective consciousness-over the course of a fantastic week spent on the main Salmon River earlier this month.
For the second year in a row, ICL partnered with SOAR Northwest to offer a conservation-themed trip down Idaho’s iconic main Salmon. Twenty people-fifteen guests and five guides-convened as (mostly) strangers at the Corn Creek put-in on a Thursday and left the Carey Creek take-out with hugs and high-fives the following Tuesday. In a word, it was epic.
Our Group Was Awesome!
If you’ve never taken a long river trip, you might not know that there are some things you can reasonably expect: guides who do their best to keep you safe, tasty meals, fun rapids, beautiful vistas, wildlife, the groover. And this trip had all of these in spades. Our guides were phenomenal. Collectively, they had more than 75 years of experience. They were the first ones up and the last ones to bed, and they made running the river seem effortless. They shared stories and taught natural history. They prepared fabulous meals. And if all that weren’t enough, they were fun.
Going into a trip like this, your fellow guests are an unknown. You wonder if everyone will get along. Will you make friends? Will there be that one person who drives everyone crazy? Similar to our guides, the group of guests were interesting, enthusiastic, thoughtful and fun. We ranged in age from 10 to 76, with representation of every decade in between. It was a first multiple-day camping trip (not to mention river trip) for some and the umpteenth for others.
Something Extra Special
But something else made this trip more special than most, and it was the reason this particular group had come together: a belief in the importance of conserving our wildest places.
The main Salmon River is the heart of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. This river was designated as wild and scenic in 1980, simultaneous with its wilderness designation. This is the land of ospreys, eagles, bears, wolves, deep canyons, high mountains and clear water. It was once a thoroughfare for millions of salmon.
It has also been a consistent home for humans. One can only imagine what it was like for the millennia when Native Americans lived there, all those salmon providing the sustenance to make the river corridor habitable for humans. White settlers came in the 1800s for the trapping and mining, and dozens stayed on through the 20th century. The salmon sustained all of them as well.
The Salmon River is a corridor through some of the wildest space in the lower 48 states. It was surveyed for railroads and highways. Fortunately, those ideas were scrapped, and this land now enjoys the highest form of landscape protection available in the United States, wilderness. A question that our floating family came back to again and again was “why?” Why is wilderness important? Why did those who came before us put the energy and effort into creating such a designation? Why is it so important to have places where we see no sign of humans? (Full disclosure: Along the Salmon, there are many signs of humans that predated the wilderness designation. Wilderness is political, and negotiations happen with its designation. Privately owned homesteads, airstrips and jetboats are grandfathered in.)
I can only speak for myself, but to me the “why” of wilderness is because of something deep inside me that calms once I am among the tall trees, the rugged mountains, the clear and swift river. The worries I carry daily-for the health of loved ones, of daily commitments, for the state of the world-disappear and I am able to calm my mind. No cell phone. No internet. No TV. It’s an opportunity to be reminded that the world is large, that sometimes we are in the food chain, not on top of it.
Wilderness is also for the time when we are not in it. Like now, two weeks off the river, when my mind is more calm and my work more focused and efficient than it was before this trip. There is benefit in simply knowing it is there. For many of us, that is enough.
Wilderness is also so that my little girl, who is only three and not yet ready to spend a week in the rapids that span this wild corridor, can have that experience one day. Because as a society, we decided that some wild places will be preserved forever.
Benefits of ICL Membership!
Idaho is a phenomenal state for wilderness and for wild and scenic rivers, with room for more of both! Chime in on new wild and scenic designations, and become an ICL member. You will support our work to protect these amazing landscapes and streams, and we’ll keep you updated on ongoing wilderness proposals.
Another benefit of being a member? You’ll get first dibs on next summer’s main Salmon trip! 🙂