We asked a few Idahoans with special connections to the Snake River just what makes the river so special

November 28, 2006 

John Doremus, Bureau of Land Management biologist in the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area

Q) What's your favorite stretch of the river and why?

The area of the river from Bliss Dam downstream to Walter,s Ferry. My understanding of geology, biology, botany, paleontology, economics, history, exploration, sociology, agriculture, recreation, and ecology have all been influenced by what I have learned working on the Snake River Plain and along the Snake River.

Q) In what one way has the river contributed the most to creating the Idaho we know today? It can be historical, cultural, economic or anything.

Economic. Since humans first arrived at the river it has provided food, water, transportation, recreation, and shelter.

Q) Is there any historical story about the river that you like the best?

Yes, when Chief Nampa was being chased across the Kuna Desert, he jumped of the canyon rim, dove 400 feet into the river, came up on the far side with a salmon under each arm, walked to a patch of drift wood, cooked, and ate the fish in full view (but out of rifle range) of those chasing him. The hard part for me to believe is that he was able to keep his pouch of salt and other seasonings dry while in the river.

There are two things that have happened in the past that I would have liked to have seen, the Bonneville Flood and pre-1820's salmon spawning migration.

Q) When and how did you forge your connection with the river?

In 1975 I was hired as a biological technician to aid a graduate student (Mike Kochert) who was studying Golden Eagles in Southwestern Idaho. Much of the study took place along the Snake River Canyon between Bliss and Marsing.

Rick Just, an Idaho author and a planner for the state Department of Parks and Recreation

Q) What's your favorite stretch of the river and why?

Reluctantly, I would have to say the Hagerman/Thousand Springs area. Perhaps I only pine most for what it once was along that stretch. The fabled Thousand Springs themselves have been pinched down to nearly nothing for hydro generation. Others of their kind were harnessed for fish production. If the Thousand Springs looked today as they did in 1900, the value of hydro production at that site would pale compared with the economic value brought by tourists coming just to see that sheet of water pouring out of the lava cliffs. What once was the home of free running features such as Crystal Springs and Blue Heart Springs is probably now the most polluted stretch of the river. Like an ailing child, I love it for what it could become again.

Q) In what one way has the river contributed the most to creating the Idaho we know today? It can be historical, cultural, economic or anything.

Ironically, the river was an obstacle to most of those who came through Idaho on the Oregon Trail to settle further west. It wasn’t long before it became the economic engine of the state. First, it brought the fertile soils of eastern Idaho, the Magic Valley and the Treasure Valley to life through irrigation. Then we harnessed the river time and again for its capacity to produce cheap electricity. Today, while both of those aspects of the river remain critical economic drivers for the state, we are discovering the value of the Snake in terms of outdoor recreation, from the world class fly fishing of the Henrys and South forks, the golfing and BASE jumping in the Magic Valley, to rafting and jet boating in Hells Canyon.

Q) Is there any historical story about the river that you like the best?

My favorite is in prehistory. The story of how the Bonneville Flood carved canyons and shaped the landscape we take for granted today is awe-inspiring. It is remarkable to think there may have been people living here at that time to witness such a cataclysm.

Q) When and how did you forge your connection with the river?

I grew up along the Blackfoot River, one of the Snake’s major tributaries. My connection to that is as essential as soil and water. On another tributary, the Middle Fork of the Salmon, I came to understand the fragility of life just last year when I spent a very long stretch of time beneath its surface. For the Snake itself, my connection is more recent than you might guess. I came to understand and appreciate it on an entirely new level this summer while exploring eastern Idaho in search of a new state park. I rediscovered the river, and to my surprise found that some of the best stretches are in the Firth and Blackfoot area, near where I grew up. The committee I was staffing ultimately picked a 577 acre, four and one half-mile stretch of river frontage as their recommendation for Idaho’s next state park.

Clive Strong, Idaho deputy attorney general in charge of water issues

Q) What's your favorite stretch of the river and why?

I have a hard time identifying one favorite reach of the river. The solitude and slow moving waters of the Henry's Fork provides a wonderful recreational experience. The majesty of the Shoshone Falls when flowing at peak flows is hard to describe. The shear power of the river as it passes through Hells Canyon is difficult to comprehend. Likewise, the wonder of the Thousand Springs is a sight to behold. Try to image watching clear cool water bubbling up into the Snake River at Blue Heart Springs or the clarity of the water in Box Canyon. In order to understand and appreciate the Snake River you must experience its diversity of character.

Q) In what one way has the river contributed the most to creating the Idaho we know today? It can be historical, cultural, economic or anything.

Senator Jordon described the Snake River as a "working river." What he meant was that the water is used over and over as it passes through the state of Idaho to serve the needs of our citizens. The river's ability to sustain our economy while at the same time provide aesthetic and recreational opportunities is truly amazing.

Q) Is there any historical story about the river that you like the best?

The history of the construction of the Hells Canyon Dam is truly fascinating. The pitched battle between the federal government and Idaho Power over the construction of the Hells Canyon dam still plays heavily in many water right conflicts today.

Q) When and how did you forge your connection with the river?

As a child growing up in Wendell, Idaho, I spent many hours either fishing or swimming in the Thousand Springs reach. We had several favorite places. My grandfather and father taught me the art of trout fishing in Niagara Springs and Billingsley Creek. We spent many hot summer afternoons swimming in the Thousand Springs near Ritter Island in the Hagerman Valley. I remember the shock to my body resulting from the first dive into the 50 degree spring water. After the initial shock, I really enjoyed the clear spring water.

As I got older, I spent a lot of time exploring and hunting in and around Box Canyon. It is truly amazing to see the bed of the spring through the clear cool water as it gushes out of the canyon wall. The solitude of this canyon provided many a relaxing moment for me.

The economic importance of the Snake River became evident to me early on as I worked in the potato harvest in elementary school and later when I moved irrigation pipe as a summer job. One of our favorite past times was to float on intertubes out to the fields to change the pipes.

Wendell owes its existence to the Northside Project. My grandfather moved from Malad, Idaho, in the 1930's to settle on a small farm between Wendell and Jerome. I spent many hours working and playing on the old homestead.

I reestablished my connection to the river when I was hired by the Office of the Attorney General in August of 1983. The third day on the job I was assigned to the Swan Falls water rights case.

Since that day, I have been immersed in the legal history of the Snake River. It is interesting to study some of the events that occurred during my youth and see how they are impacting events today. For example, while I was growing up in Wendell, a local developer was buying up lands above the rim of the Hagerman Valley and selling the surface water rights to finance the purchase and replacing the water supply with ground water. This event is one of the contributing factors to the current surface/groundwater conflict. Likewise, I helped my dad with projects associated with some of the trout hatcheries that are now at the center of the delivery calls.

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