Wilderness Watch and other groups have sent the Chief of the Forest Service a letter urging him to permanently close four backcountry airstrips located in the Big Creek drainage within the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho. The Simonds, Vines Ranch, Dewey Moore, and Mile Hi airstrips were not in regular use at the time of wilderness designation through the Central Idaho Wilderness Act in 1980, and they should have been closed permanently decades ago. Instead, the agency has kept them open under “emergency use only,” bowing to pressure from aviators and the Idaho Congressional delegation who are now pushing the Forest Service to open the strips to unlimited use by recreational pilots.
The area’s wilderness quality continues to suffer from the ongoing and increasing noise and intrusion, with the airstrips being used for multi-airplane rendezvouses, practice “touch and go” landings, and airstrip “bagging.” In 1982, the Forest Service put forth a plan to let the four airstrips revert back to their natural state. It’s long past time for this to happen.
Photo: Plane crash in the Mile Hi landing area by U.S. Forest Service