Pete Zimowsky: After 40 years, I'm heading down the trail

He will still do what he loves most: Being outdoors

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comJuly 17, 2014 

I was a pure greenhorn when I came to Southwest Idaho in 1974 and joined the staff of the Idaho Statesman.

After 40 years, this is my final column.

I wasn't always an outdoors writer, although I got the bug when I wrote my first outdoors piece for my student newspaper at Utah State University in the mid-'60s. It was about the U.S. Forest Service charging a camping fee at developed campgrounds. Could you imagine charging a camping fee for campgrounds our tax dollars built?

After graduation in 1968, I did a stint at the Salt Lake Tribune in a variety of general assignment positions, including the police beat.

I still remember going over police reports at 2 a.m. in the station and trying to make our last deadline for the city edition.

I worked for a weekly in Northern Utah for five years as a jack-of-all-trades. It was a good gig because of the duck hunting along the Bear River, cross-country skiing on Sardine Pass and grouse hunting up Logan Canyon.

Then I took a copy editor position at the Idaho Statesman and found out Southwest Idaho was this new place, and I didn't have a clue about local outdoor pursuits.

AVID HUNTER, ANGLER

I wasn't a total greenhorn in the outdoors. I was a veteran cutthroat trout fly angler on the Salt River, Salt Creek and Greys River in western Wyoming. I stalked cutts in Crow and Stump creeks in eastern Idaho. I fished the Logan River and Blacksmith Fork River in northern Utah for rainbows and browns.

I shot a fair number of bucks in the Wasatch Range of Utah and hunted ducks and geese at the Bear River Bird Refuge. In the early '70s, the refuge staff gave us free steel shot as an experiment for the proposals to convert to non-toxic shot for waterfowl. Free shotgun shells. I still can't believe it.

Believe me, it was hard leaving the incredible duck hunting of the Bear River Bird Refuge in northern Utah.

I snowshoed and backcountry skied the Wasatch Range before there were high-tech skis. I whittled down a pair of wooden Culver City downhill skis and freed the heel on the binding to ski Tony Grove Lake and Franklin Basin near the Idaho-Utah border.

I bow hunted in the brushy foothills out of Salt Lake City where mega Park City is now.

I took the kids camping when the only way to keep the dirty diapers was in a sloshy bucket in the back of the station wagon on bumpy back roads.

When I came to Idaho, I was 27. I always think of John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" where he says he was born in his 27th year. I was born in my 27th year when I came to Idaho. It really hit home on my first hike to a lake near Red Mountain, north of Lowman.

Again, I wasn't automatically the outdoors writer at the Statesman. I was a copy editor and filled in as a news editor or general reporter on occasion. The Statesman's outdoor writer quit, and I happened to be in a news meeting when the managing editor asked, "Anyone here know what a chukar is?" I raised my hand. He said, "You're the outdoor writer."

I put myself on a fast track to learn as much as possible about Idaho. I learned a lot, but not without making some really stupid mistakes, like getting the Middle Fork of the Salmon River mixed up with the Main Salmon. Did I hear about it.

OUTDOORS GEOGRAPHY

I learned quickly that you don't write about someplace where you haven't been.

Statesman readers are really, really serious about outdoors geography. You can tell that by the popularity of our Photo Challenge each week.

I looked at some of my columns in 1974 for this farewell column. Looking back, luckily, Idaho Fish and Game conservation officers took the greenhorn under their wings and pointed me in the right direction. They were patient and taught me a lot.

I learned quickly. I think it all came together when I shot a limit of greenheads at Lake Lowell that fall.

Back to the first columns. There was one predicting that gravel pits along State Street and other areas in Boise would become popular fishing holes.

"Fish and Game develops ex-gravel pits for use as close-to-home fishing holes."

Duh! Look at ParkCenter, Quinns, Williams and Veterans ponds, just to name a few.

I wrote about hunters being told to avoid eating duck livers. Seems F&G found a little mercury in the livers. I'm not crazy about duck livers anyway. That was October of 1974.

I remember a Bureau of Land Management biologist taking me into Eastern Oregon's Owyhee Breaks on horseback in the '70s.

"Oh, sure, I can ride," I told him. We headed up out of Leslie Gulch up on the Breaks overlooking Owyhee Reservoir, and came across a herd of wild horses.

Well, the stallion in the herd took a liking to the BLM officer's mare. All hell broke loose, and the BLM cowboy was thrown to the ground and the mare took off over the horizon. Greenhorn Zimo hung on to the saddle horn as his horse bucked and stomped and wanted no part of the wild herd.

But, I rode out the storm, dismounted and the BLM guy jumped on and took off after his mare.

We got the mare back, and I never forgot the trip.

Then there was the beginning of a 40-mile backcountry horse trip to Hand Meadows and other areas out of Big Creek in what is now the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness.

Again, Cowboy Zimo mounted his horse. I think its name was Arapaho or Navajo or something.

I was wearing a plastic rain slicker. It was pouring. The wind came up. The rain poncho crackled. Arapaho or Navajo took off down the road at a full gallop toward the Big Creek trailhead and suddenly stopped. Over the head of the horse I went. I did a couple of tuck and rolls and didn't break anything.

After the rain, we all took off on the pack trip. I only lost it a few times on the steep trail.

YES, PUBLIC LANDS

You all have had to put up with me harping on saving our public lands over the years.

My hero, Ted Trueblood wrote, "They're fixing to steal your land."

I hope Idahoans get the message and fight for their federal public lands. That's it. I said it. Just remember anti-federal public lands candidates at the polls this fall.

OK, back to the thing I really loved about writing for the Statesman - our readers.

Just recently, a young dad asked me for some statistics on river drownings and accidents for his Scout Troop. The troop was going on a river trip, and he wanted to emphasize the need for river safety.

"I've been a whitewater rafter since I was 7 and haven't stopped for the last 21 years," said Grant Hughes. "In fact, I still have the article you wrote, which included pictures of myself, my dad and our friend, Bart, back when I was probably 14."

Hughes brought back super memories when he said, "You had gone up to Cascade or McCall to work on an article about snowmobiling, and no one was at any of the park-and-sled areas, so you were headed back to the Valley and saw some catarafters (us) on the river, and decided to write about something else."

Yup, I was good at backup stories.

"We had stopped to eat lunch (hot tomato soup out of a Thermos) on a small beach, and you popped out of the bushes from the road and introduced yourself and asked us a few questions and asked if you could take some pictures of us coming through some of the rapids," Hughes said. "We agreed, and within a few days there we were on the front page of the outdoor section!"

IT'S ZEEEMO

That's what a lot of people remember about me. I suddenly popped out of the bushes and introduced myself.

"Hi, I'm Pete Zimowsky with the Statesman."

"Oh, you're that ZEEEMO guy."

Anyway, I've been popping out of the bushes with a camera for four decades.

All I can say is thank you, my readers, for an incredible four decades. I learned more from you than you learned from me. You taught this greenhorn a thing or two.

You can still keep in touch by emailing me at pete@getoutdoorsnorthwest.com.

Hopefully, we'll meet up on the trail, or maybe even share a campfire.

All I can say after all these years is have fun outdoors, and please preserve the outdoors for future generations.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @zimosoutdoors

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