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 - Carleen on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:35

No noise. No motors. No guns. No people really. No pollution. No campfires. No pollution. No garbage. No plastic. ETC

No noise. No motors. No guns. No people really. No pollution. No campfires. No pollution. No garbage. No plastic. ETC
Guest - MiTmite9 on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:35

It is wonderful to be out in nature and enjoy hearing all the birds, the wind in the trees, the rush of water. I am certainly one of those who believes that humans don't need to be everywhere all of the time. There should be some spaces left untouched.

I also think that there is no place for motorized activity in areas that are meant to be restful and undisturbed by engine noise/fumes.

I live for the day when people "get it," and stop defiling the beauty of forests and lakes -------- especially via use of ATVs and Jetskis and motorboats.

It is wonderful to be out in nature and enjoy hearing all the birds, the wind in the trees, the rush of water. I am certainly one of those who believes that humans don't need to be everywhere all of the time. There should be some spaces left untouched. I also think that there is no place for motorized activity in areas that are meant to be restful and undisturbed by engine noise/fumes. I live for the day when people "get it," and stop defiling the beauty of forests and lakes -------- especially via use of ATVs and Jetskis and motorboats.
Guest - Constance Minerovic on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:34

Leave the Wilderness WILD! Profiteering should NOT outweigh Peace!

Leave the Wilderness WILD! Profiteering should NOT outweigh Peace!
Guest - David Greene on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:32

I want wilderness not recreation. Stop the madness but limiting all boats to electric 1 HP motors or hand power. The world is dying and we should stop contributing.

I want wilderness not recreation. Stop the madness but limiting all boats to electric 1 HP motors or hand power. The world is dying and we should stop contributing.
Guest - Cody Dolnick on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:31

No motorboats in River of No Return Wilderness!

No motorboats in River of No Return Wilderness!
Guest - eric pash on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:27

maintain the solitude

maintain the solitude
Guest - Gloria Diggle on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:26

There is an urgent need to protect places where we can get away from the noise and pollution of man. With all the rivers available to motor boats, there is absolutely no need to add The River of No Return Wilderness to the list.

There is an urgent need to protect places where we can get away from the noise and pollution of man. With all the rivers available to motor boats, there is absolutely no need to add The River of No Return Wilderness to the list.
Guest - julia knaz on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:25

the rivers should be left alone for the wildlife to enjoy. Humans have enough places to go

the rivers should be left alone for the wildlife to enjoy. Humans have enough places to go
Guest - Ms. Michelle Diss on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:23

Please consider keeping the sounds of the wilderness to the sounds of nature not the sound of noisy boys & their toys respectively….Thank you.

Please consider keeping the sounds of the wilderness to the sounds of nature not the sound of noisy boys & their toys respectively….Thank you.
Guest - Laura A McGowan on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:22

The River of No Return Wilderness should be just that. Wilderness. I was appalled to find that the peaceful wilderness is now threatened by motor boats. I find it selfish and unethical that people are "terrorizing" this pristine wilderness. If you must use a boat, show respect for ALL life and use a canoe or kayak. Motor boats have no place in this wilderness. I implore those who feel it necessary to disrupt the silence with motor boats to reconsider alternatives.

The River of No Return Wilderness should be just that. Wilderness. I was appalled to find that the peaceful wilderness is now threatened by motor boats. I find it selfish and unethical that people are "terrorizing" this pristine wilderness. If you must use a boat, show respect for ALL life and use a canoe or kayak. Motor boats have no place in this wilderness. I implore those who feel it necessary to disrupt the silence with motor boats to reconsider alternatives.
Guest - Jeaneen Andretta on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:22

The last thing we need is motorboats in this beautiful, quiet river. Protect the wildlife and all its natural beauty.

Thank you,

Jeaneen

The last thing we need is motorboats in this beautiful, quiet river. Protect the wildlife and all its natural beauty. Thank you, Jeaneen
Guest - John Carter on Thursday, 26 August 2021 11:20

Sad reality, Brett...our public lands have been turned over to motors and people who have no outdoor ethics, no consideration for nature, wildlife or others...thanks for the article..

Sad reality, Brett...our public lands have been turned over to motors and people who have no outdoor ethics, no consideration for nature, wildlife or others...thanks for the article..
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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

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