Solitude in the River of No Return Wilderness…until all the motorboats

By Brett Haverstick

BrettI arrived at the Corn Creek trailhead about 4 p.m. in the afternoon. The sun was still hot, and the river canyon felt like an oven, particularly for May. After a few hours of hiking along the trail, I reached Horse Creek, a small tributary of the Salmon River. The creek was loud and brimming bank-to-bank with spring runoff. I decided to cross the creek using the foot-bridge—it was the wrong time of the year to wade into the water and attempt a stream crossing!

 

After hiking about ten miles, I found a place to camp near Fawn Creek Bar, which is one or two miles upstream from Lantz Bar. I pitched my tent, boiled water for soup, nibbled on a piece of chocolate, and gazed into the stars that were just beginning to appear in the evening sky. All was quiet, and everything seemed right in the world. I slid into my sleeping bag and slept deeply through the night.

 

I awakened to a bright blue sky arcing over my tent and the ponderosa pines that line the river’s banks. I sipped on some coffee, prepared breakfast and listened to the rhythm of the rapids. It was a beautiful and peaceful morning, and I watched numerous ducks glide across the top of the river. I think they were Common Mergansers, but I couldn’t get to my binoculars in time to get a better look.

 

Shortly thereafter, while tidying up my camp, I heard the first boat engines of the day echoing in the canyon. The obnoxious noise was nearing closer, and I cringed with disappointment - I was hoping to have at least a few more hours of solitude before the roar of the motors invaded my conscience. Four motorboats passed me the day before, and I, unfortunately, expected to see even more over the holiday weekend. I knew the motorboat mobs would be out in full force.

 

The River of No Return Wilderness was established in 1980. At roughly 2.3 million acres, it’s the largest contiguous unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System in the Lower 48. It is located entirely in Idaho, and the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are charged with its stewardship. Frank Church‘s (D-ID) name was added to the Wilderness in 1984, not long after the Senator’s death. Today, the area is known as the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (FC-RONRW).

 

Unfortunately, a special provision in the Central Idaho Wilderness Act, the legislation that designated the FC-RONRW, allowed motorboat use to continue along the main Salmon River. The original version of the legislation stated that future motorboat use couldn’t exceed current levels at that time (1978-1979), but when the bill made it out of conference committee, that language had been flipped on its head. The new legislation did away with a hard cap for future motorboat use, and instead, established the 1978-1979 motorboat use levels as the minimum.

 

Wilderness legislation that contains harmful provisions, such as allowing motorboat use, completely fails to honor and live up to the spirit and intent of the Wilderness Act. The authors of the act were clear in their intentions to prohibit motorized and mechanized use in Wilderness, “except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act.” Motorboat use certainly doesn’t meet this threshold.

 

Unfortunately, the inclusion of special provisions in wilderness legislation is quite common today. Congress is authorizing more and more exceptions for motorized access, wildlife management, private inholdings, landing strips, water rights, border patrol activities, fixed anchors (rock climbing) and more. Wilderness and the wilderness system are dying from a thousand provisions!

 

It’s up to wilderness advocates to ensure that this alarming trend doesn’t continue. If you’re tracking any wilderness legislation that contains harmful special provisions, contact your member of Congress and urge them to strip out the exceptions that run contrary to the Wilderness Act. Many special provisions are added to wilderness legislation at the behest of special interests, and it’s imperative that elected officials hear from concerned citizens.

 

You should also contact your local conservation group, and ask them if they support the legislation with the harmful exceptions. It’s equally important to hold your local conservation group up to the standards of the Wilderness Act.

 

I endured approximately fifteen motorboats racing up and down the main Salmon River on my three-day backpacking trip in the FC-RONRW. If we are to pass on an “enduring resource of wilderness” to future generations, then the wild character of the wilderness system must be preserved.

 

FCRONRW

 

Brett is Wilderness Watch's membership and development director.
 

Editor's note:

“Wilderness Experienced” is a platform to share stories of recent experiences in Wilderness. Stories focus on the virtues of Wilderness and/or challenges facing the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Commenting guidelines:

We encourage readers to engage the authors and other commenters through the comment feature. Please be respectful and thoughtful in your response, and focus your comments on the issues/experiences. Please refrain from personal attacks and harassment, using rude or disruptive language, providing misinformation, or promoting violence or illegal activities. We reserve the right to reject comments. Thank you for your cooperation and support.

 

Wilderness for its own sake
Lost in the Winds
 

Comments 92

Guest - Erika B on Thursday, 26 August 2021 12:19

Is any place on Earth that humans able to appreciate and respect without destroying it?
Please, let us enjoy nature here without human noise.

Is any place on Earth that humans able to appreciate and respect without destroying it? Please, let us enjoy nature here without human noise.
Guest - Bob Schroyer on Thursday, 26 August 2021 12:18

I have a friend who has been very active in trying to stop the noisy flight of helicopters over Glacier National Park -- the same problem, but even more intrusive and on a larger scale. There must be a stop to such invasive behavior in wilderness areas!

I have a friend who has been very active in trying to stop the noisy flight of helicopters over Glacier National Park -- the same problem, but even more intrusive and on a larger scale. There must be a stop to such invasive behavior in wilderness areas!
Guest - Jon on Thursday, 26 August 2021 12:16

I have backpacked all across the western U.S. This experience would be truly disheartening. Thinking you are in the wilderness and expending your own energy to get there, bringing only the essentials you can carry on your back to make the arduous journey, only to be met by motorboats? Good lord... OHV's, drones, generators, motorboats... this is not a wilderness experience and if you're sleeping in a motor home it's not camping. Yes, I understand some folks can't physically get to certain locations without vehicular travel, but some places just need to be free from noisy, smelly, noxious motorized vehicles. For those who state it is their right to use these intrusive, horrendous machines in the back country, you are fooling yourself. You are no lover of nature, you only want to conquer and destroy nature. Having to have mechanized transport only proves that. People just can't leave their shit behind them in the city.

I have backpacked all across the western U.S. This experience would be truly disheartening. Thinking you are in the wilderness and expending your own energy to get there, bringing only the essentials you can carry on your back to make the arduous journey, only to be met by motorboats? Good lord... OHV's, drones, generators, motorboats... this is not a wilderness experience and if you're sleeping in a motor home it's not camping. Yes, I understand some folks can't physically get to certain locations without vehicular travel, but some places just need to be free from noisy, smelly, noxious motorized vehicles. For those who state it is their right to use these intrusive, horrendous machines in the back country, you are fooling yourself. You are no lover of nature, you only want to conquer and destroy nature. Having to have mechanized transport only proves that. People just can't leave their shit behind them in the city.
Guest - Laurel Gress on Thursday, 26 August 2021 12:14

If it's truly wilderness, people should stay out of it - period!

If it's truly wilderness, people should stay out of it - period!
Guest - Lynne Rosenfield on Thursday, 26 August 2021 12:12

Wilderness should stay wilderness, no motorized vehicles of any type allowed.

Wilderness should stay wilderness, no motorized vehicles of any type allowed.
Guest - Judith Hazelton on Thursday, 26 August 2021 12:06

Motorized vehicles always ruin & detract from nature. There are more than enough places for all types of motorized vehicles already, there is no rational need to open pristine areas to them.

Motorized vehicles always ruin & detract from nature. There are more than enough places for all types of motorized vehicles already, there is no rational need to open pristine areas to them.
Guest - David Knightly on Thursday, 26 August 2021 12:02

Only invasive species on our planet is man.
Natural areas do not need motors, noise, dirt bikes or humans disrupting nature.

Only invasive species on our planet is man. Natural areas do not need motors, noise, dirt bikes or humans disrupting nature.
Guest - jack greene on Thursday, 26 August 2021 12:00

At the very least curtailed to electric motors only. Best, no motors!

At the very least curtailed to electric motors only. Best, no motors!
Guest - Maggie Frazier on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:54

Seems to me that Wilderness should be JUST that - if someone has to have a motor boat, ATV or any motorized conveyance? They shouldnt BE there! There certainly could be exceptions for someone thats disabled - but if you dont care enough to expend some labor & sweat? Then stay away.

Seems to me that Wilderness should be JUST that - if someone has to have a motor boat, ATV or any motorized conveyance? They shouldnt BE there! There certainly could be exceptions for someone thats disabled - but if you dont care enough to expend some labor & sweat? Then stay away.
Guest - Randall s. Boltz on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:54

If it were up to me, the only people to even be allowed in the wilderness areas would be those who understood, respected, and truly cared about both the animals and their habitat.

If it were up to me, the only people to even be allowed in the wilderness areas would be those who understood, respected, and truly cared about both the animals and their habitat.
Guest - Mj Najimi on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:50

I don't think motor boats should be allowed in this river. Anyone who wants to see the wilderness; should be able to walk or hike-not ferried-in.
Some are profiting from this monetarily!

I don't think motor boats should be allowed in this river. Anyone who wants to see the wilderness; should be able to walk or hike-not ferried-in. Some are profiting from this monetarily!
Guest - Luis J. Cavallone (website) on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:43

Nature must be left alone. It has worked for centuries until motorized vehicles and uncaring humans started interfering with it

Nature must be left alone. It has worked for centuries until motorized vehicles and uncaring humans started interfering with it
Guest - Geoff Cornish on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:43

For those who fish, a small series of traffic windows should be allowed in the correct seasonality, anything else...not!

For those who fish, a small series of traffic windows should be allowed in the correct seasonality, anything else...not!
Guest - Dave Boules on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:42

The noise and engine pollution should not be allowed. The longer it goes on the worse it will get. It should be stopped.

The noise and engine pollution should not be allowed. The longer it goes on the worse it will get. It should be stopped.
Guest - cherie schiafone on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:41

Motorboat usage on this river is most unfortunate. Seeing photos of the boats would drive the message home for more people. Too bad you didn't post a few. You may have good reason for not doing so. Wilderness should remain quiet, serene, and only gently imposed upon by conscientious folks who pack out what they brought in.

Motorboat usage on this river is most unfortunate. Seeing photos of the boats would drive the message home for more people. Too bad you didn't post a few. You may have good reason for not doing so. Wilderness should remain quiet, serene, and only gently imposed upon by conscientious folks who pack out what they brought in.
Guest - Pamela on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:40

Motorized vehicles, including boats, don't belong in the wilderness. Such a sin to allow them and destroy the solitude of nature.

Motorized vehicles, including boats, don't belong in the wilderness. Such a sin to allow them and destroy the solitude of nature.
Guest - Stan Grove on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:39

Spectacular natural scenery is being damaged and spoiled by the use of fossil fuel powered craft the shatters the peacefulness, disrupts the ecosystem, and destroys a valuable resource enjoyed by many. Enough staff and resources need to be made available to manage our remaining mostly natural sites in ways that allow them to be preserved for future generations.

Spectacular natural scenery is being damaged and spoiled by the use of fossil fuel powered craft the shatters the peacefulness, disrupts the ecosystem, and destroys a valuable resource enjoyed by many. Enough staff and resources need to be made available to manage our remaining mostly natural sites in ways that allow them to be preserved for future generations.
Guest - Marce on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:37

There's a good reason why we love to "escape" to the wilderness...we want to hear water and birds, not the engines we hear in our daily commutes. When those daily noises interfere with nature, what is the point?!

There's a good reason why we love to "escape" to the wilderness...we want to hear water and birds, not the engines we hear in our daily commutes. When those daily noises interfere with nature, what is the point?!
Guest - John P Chambers on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:36

The boating industry is conscience-free. Pollution from oil products, killing water life like manatees, otters, and turtles in addition to the din. Only clean energy, silent and non-propeller vessels should be allowed in any wilderness area and should be taxed out of existence if they threaten any water animals, no matter where. The country has grown a conscience and all those who exploit nature for their amusement while doing great harm to future generations and their opportunities to experience the natural world have to be stopped at all cost.

The boating industry is conscience-free. Pollution from oil products, killing water life like manatees, otters, and turtles in addition to the din. Only clean energy, silent and non-propeller vessels should be allowed in any wilderness area and should be taxed out of existence if they threaten any water animals, no matter where. The country has grown a conscience and all those who exploit nature for their amusement while doing great harm to future generations and their opportunities to experience the natural world have to be stopped at all cost.
Guest - Chris Daum (website) on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:36

It tarnishes the idea of wilderness with motorized traffic. All such should be banned.

It tarnishes the idea of wilderness with motorized traffic. All such should be banned.
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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

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