Sun Valley's Most Influential Leaders
(page 7 of 8)
Silver Creek’s Legacy of People and Place
Adopted from an Essay by Diane Josephy Peavey
For many of us, it is our stories of the land and its people, stories of creating, evolving, persevering and surviving that are inspiring. The Silver Creek Preserve is just such a place.
Silver Creek runs through a high desert landscape mysteriously filled with springs that feed the creek and keep the land green, even marshy, during the driest summer months.
I understood this best visiting John and Elizabeth Stevenson at their ranch just this side of Timmerman Hill. Theirs was the first Nature Conservancy easement, which was acquired a half dozen years after the watershed preserve was created in 1976. It included a huge marsh area in the middle of their ranch. This land is now a lake, filled with waterfowl and surrounded by wildlife.
“The Nature Conservancy wanted to protect Silver Creek,” John explained, “and where else would you start but upstream?”
As Elizabeth recalled, the old-timers remember draining the marsh for farm and pasture needs. “We brought it back to its original wetlands. It is now a lake that catches sediment from upstream farmers, keeping it out of Silver Creek,” she said, while pointing around her with a sweeping gesture that takes in the lush landscape filled with marsh grasses and cattails. “And at the same time, we’re creating wildlife habitat.”
“Oh, this is great habitat!” John agreed, as the two itemized their sightings, mentioning numerous moose and elk.
“Especially in the fall, when the hunters are out,” Elizabeth said. “They seem to know and come here for refuge.”
The air is still. The afternoon is quiet. The Stevensons' small canoe is inviting. I scanned the land, the lower portion that is The Nature Conservancy easement filled with springs. There is no trace of former ranching activity here and yet the Stevensons still use the surrounding high ground. It is the perfect balance and use of this land, honoring its environmental uniqueness and farming potential, open space treasured by people of the land like John and Elizabeth.
Bud Purdy spent the first of many summers on his grandfather’s Picabo K bar K Ranch when he was just 10. “I did everything you know, like you do on a ranch,” he told me. “I remember pitching hay and running the derrick with a team. We put everything up with horses. I couldn’t harness my team so the guys did it for me.” But for Bud, who lived and worked on the ranch after graduating from college in 1938 up until his passing last April at the age 96, his memories moved between long work days and fishing and hunting along the creek with Sun Valley celebrities and friends like Ernest Hemingway.
"There was nothing between Picabo and Ketchum except farms and lots of sheep … almost all the sheep are gone,” he recalled. “There was a great sense of community here, too.”
Purdy’s ranch was originally founded by his grandfather, W.H. Kilpatrick, in 1883, and now includes the largest easement on Silver Creek. The easements and influx of second homes in the area have changed this ranch country, but saved the creek and landscape from serious development.
When asked about his perfect day, Bud spoke of checking cattle and fences, riding his horse, jumping in the creek for a swim. “That’s a perfect day,” he said, "spending time in Silver Creek.”
- 1949: With a motto like “conserving coldwater fisheries,” it was only a matter of time before Trout Unlimited made its mark in Idaho. Founded in Michigan in 1949, Trout Unlimited has recently opened up an office in Hailey and has adopted the Big Wood River as part of its “Homeland Rivers Initiative.” The local Hemingway Chapter has been very active in protecting and educating anglers of all ages about local fisheries.
- 1972: Roughly the size of Rhode Island, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, better known locally as the “SNRA,” is comprised of 756,000 acres of “working/producing” National Forest. Congress first protected this massive swath of Idaho’s stunning scenery just to the north of Sun Valley in 1972, directing the U.S. Forest Service to restrict development, while still respecting private property and allowing varied uses of the land. Each year, nearly a million people will visit the SNRA to hike, camp, fish, Nordic ski, hunt and ride bicycles on the 700 miles of trails and 40 peaks that rise above 10,000 feet. In 1997 the Sawtooth Society was formed to help negotiate easement payments and raise funds for recreational facilities and as a private-sector advocate.
- 1973: Established in 1973, the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) works to “keep Idaho the kind of special place you experienced as a child.” With offices in Boise, Ketchum and Sandpoint, the ICL is the Gem State's leading voice for clean water, air and wilderness by monitoring mining, logging, motorized recreation and wildlife management to ensure Idaho’s natural resources are managed responsibly.
- 1976: Originally founded in 1951 and first brought to the Gem State to help save Silver Creek in 1976, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has its state offices in Hailey. TNC now helps conserve more than 400,000 acres in Idaho, including properties on legendary fisheries like Silver Creek, and the Henry’s and South forks and Hell’s Canyon stretches of the Snake River.
- 1980: After years of tireless work by Idaho Senator Frank Church, the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness was established in 1980 (adding the senator’s name to its title in 1984). It now encompasses more than 2 million acres, making it the 2nd largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states. A native Idahoan, Church originally made a name for himself in land conservation while playing a key role in establishing passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.
- 1990: Founded primarily by Ketchum locals in 1990 and now 3,500 members strong, Idaho Rivers United has become a powerful force for safeguarding Idaho's imperiled wild steelhead and salmon, protecting and enhancing stream flows and riparian areas, and defending and promoting the wild and scenic qualities of the rivers in the “Whitewater State.”
- 1991: Adopted by Blaine County Commissioners in 1991, the Mountain Overlay District, better known as the “Hillside Ordinance,” regulates development on hillsides and, in effect, protects local viewsheds. The unique ordinance is credited with not only protecting the Wood River Valley’s glorious natural views, but also makes sure Sun Valley doesn’t get confused with resorts in Colorado, California or Utah.
- 1993: Founded in 1993 by Valley local Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project now has over 1,400 members and offices in a half-dozen Western states. The group works to influence and improve public lands management throughout the West with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on public lands, including harm to ecological, biological, cultural, historic, archeological, scenic resources, wilderness values, roadless areas, Wilderness Study Areas and designated Wilderness.
- 1994: Founded in 1994, Wood River Land Trust (WRLT) protects and restores land, water and wildlife habitat in the Wood River Valley and its surrounding area. Their projects include the Boxcar Bend, Draper and Howard preserves and managing nearly 25 local land conservation easements. Working cooperatively with private landowners and local communities, WRLT ensures that these areas are protected both now and for future generations.