An Unparalleled Teaching Moment

An Unparalleled Teaching Moment

Idaho’s timber and tourism sectors have prospered side-by-side in our Panhandle region since the end of World War II.

I have vivid memories of tourists camped in tents beneath tall ponderosas just north of Coeur d’Alene’s City Beach in the early 1950s. Back then, Sherman Avenue and Northwest Boulevard doubled as Old Highway 10, just as it did in Kellogg and Wallace. There was no Interstate 90.

When I was four or five years old, our family camped at Bumblebee, still a lovely and peaceful Forest Service campground a few miles up the Little North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, 38 miles from Coeur d’Alene.

Mother and Dad didn’t own a car then, so Dad’s boss loaded our gear – a wall tent, Coleman stove and food – in the back of his pickup and drove us from Kellogg to Bumblebee – 40 miles and several hours on a dusty logging road that was barely passable. Today, 30 minutes, 40 at the most.

Dad and I frequently fished Teepee and Independence Creeks on the opening day of fishing season, always the first weekend in June. Teepee joins Independence downstream from the McGee Ranger Station, then Teepee joins the East Fork to form the North Fork at McPherson’s Ranch.

In the 1950s, the North Fork road was so bad that it took the better part of a day to reach McGee. Now it takes about two hours, and the road is paved all the way from the Interstate 90 exit at Kingston.

The roads that traverse the Idaho Panhandle National Forest were built by loggers, prospectors or railroaders who hoped to strike it rich hauling logs and gold. But the dredge fields on Pritchard and Eagle creeks gave out by the 1930s, and powerful diesel engines gave log trucks a maneuverability advantage that railroad loggers never enjoyed.

It was the same with the old splash dams and flumes that formed an elaborate transportation network for harnessing water power to move billions of board feet of logs [yes billions] from the North Fork’s upper regions to sawmills downriver as far as Dudley, near what remains of the town of Rose Lake.

You can still find remnants of the old splash dams on the Little North Fork. Long, quiet pools behind partially submerged logs hide beautiful west slope cutthroat trout. I practiced fly casting here when I was a boy, and as soon as spring runoff subsides, I’ll haul my 73-year-old bones up the Little River for another practice run. I will again marvel at nature’s recuperative powers. Steep canyons slicked clean by turn-of-the-century loggers now shade some of the prettiest trout waters on earth.

I tell you this story because it all came rushing back to me on April 12. Julia and I had accepted invitations to sit in on the plenary sessions at a worldwide tourism conference at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. It was sponsored by the Seattle-based Adventure Travel and Trade Association, the brainchild of a charming and thoughtful guy named Russell Walters.

Mr. Walters shared with us some startling insights that underscore the dizzying pace of technological change driving the now multi-billion-dollar global adventure travel market. A sampling:

In 1917, it took five days to cross the Atlantic from London to New York. London to Australia took three and a half months. Now both destinations can be reached in a few hours.

Less than nine percent of all U.S. households had telephones in 1917. Today most homes have multiple cell phones. We think nothing of Skyping friends from remote locations on mountaintops and in jungles. Orbiting satellites deliver our voices and images to the Internet at the speed of light.

Given our fast-shrinking world, I should not have been surprised that the conference’s major underwriters were the tourism and travel divisions of the governments of Alberta, Switzerland, Israel, Norway, Australia, Ireland, Sweden and Jordan. But I was.

Nor should I have been surprised to see the visionary Coeur d’Alene Tribe set up at the conversation table next to the Government of Jordan, but there was Dee Dee McGowan, the tribe’s Cultural Tourism Manager, explaining her new cultural outreach program.

It was all a little jarring for an Idaho boy who grew up fishing trout waters rarely seen by anyone who didn’t live here. But the same light-speed force that propels Evergreen’s forestry messages around the world is also driving global tourism. Travel to remote places, like the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, is now being marketed worldwide as the antidote for what ails daily life. I think the immense popularity of northern Idaho’s bicycle paths, hiking trails and rails to trails routes form the tip of an enormous iceberg floating in our direction. At Evergreen, we view its arrival as an unparalleled teaching moment for forestry’s stakeholders.

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