IN THIS SECTION
Written in Water
A brief History of Water in the West [pg. 2]
Summer Art Scene
Water-inspired Art [pg. 3]
Alice the Kayak [pg. 4]
Saving Silver Creek
Preserve Turns 35 [pg. 5]
WRITTEN IN WATER
A brief history of water in the West with Prof. David Kennedy
“One of the defining characteristics of the West is that it is, by and large, an arid region,” explained David M. Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History at Stanford University and 2010 Sun Valley Writer’s Conference attendee.
While gold has garnered more headlines and sparkles more brightly in the minds of man, water has always been the most precious and important resource in the Western United States. And referring to the 11 states that make up the region as “arid” may actually be an understatement.
As Professor Kennedy graciously explained between classes at Stanford’s Palo Alto, California, campus, outside of some mountainous areas of the Rockies, Sierra and Cascades, most of the West averages less than 20 inches of rainfall per year.
“Water is the central most important issue in the region and it has long been misunderstood,” said Professor Kennedy, who then pointed out that this misunderstanding goes all the way back to when the region was first being settled, shortly after the Civil War.
John Wesley Powell may be best known for being the first man to navigate the Grand Canyon, but he was all but ignored as a writer. A decade after his daring Colorado River expedition, the soon-to-be director of the U.S. Geological Survey published a paper called “Report on the Arid Region of the United States.”
In it, Powell argued that the West must be broken into states according to water and that access to rivers, creeks and brooks should be the dividing lines. Powell also warned that the water must be divided equally among states and that it must be treated with great care, for every drop of it would be needed.
“Not a spring of a creek can be touched without affecting the interests of every man who cultivates the soil in the region,” Powell wrote.
“Powell’s recommendations were never followed. Political boundaries were not drawn by water, which is why another distinctive characteristic of the West is the squareness of the states,” Professor Kennedy said, adding, “and ever since then it’s literally become ‘hell or low water’ in the West.”
While Powell pleaded, hordes of Americans began to answer the call (usually credited to author Horace Greeley) to “Go West, young man. Go west and grow up in the country.” Of course, no one bothered to tell these young men that most of the West was as dry as a dollar bill.
To help the struggling, but nonetheless growing, communities of the arid region survive, shortly after the turn of the century the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was born and the great damming of the West began. Before the better part of a century had passed, there was hardly so much as a spring creek in the West that didn’t have at least one dam on it, which is one of the reasons Idaho’s beloved Salmon River is so special. It’s one of the only truly wild and free rivers left in the West.
“Everything depends on the manipulation of water—on capturing it behind dams, storing it, and rerouting it in concrete rivers over distances of hundreds of miles. Were it not for…the messianic effort towards that end, the West as we know it would not exist,” Marc Reisner wrote in Cadillac Desert; the classic and highly entertaining tome about water and the West.
Despite almost constant fights for water rights and massive destruction to native fish and waterfowl populations, the damming has pretty much proven to be a success. The once barren West is now home to about one-third of the nation’s population. But success has its price, too.
“The good news is that the dams were hugely successful. The bad news is that success brings its own problems,” Professor Kennedy said.
The problems are primarily three-fold: steady population growth is taxing the systems, the Endangered Species Act (enacted in 1973) limits human use of water, and the wild card is what will happen because of global climate change. They all add up to a water system that is rapidly becoming obsolete.
But there is still hope. Professor Kennedy is part of Stanford’s Joint Program on Water in the West, which is currently in the midst of a five-year intensive study that not only aims to get a grasp on the current state of water in the Western U.S., but also to research and test solutions.
“There are reasons to be hopeful,” Professor Kennedy said. “On balance, it’s starting to emerge as a topic of concern to the general media. It’s hopeful that we’re even paying attention to the issues. We’re still a pretty smart and resourceful people.”
The type of people smart enough to understand the words that poet Thomas Hornsby Ferril used to describe the West: “Here is a land where life is written in water.” -Mike McKenna
SUMMER ART SCENE
In a place as steeped in culture and enraptured with water as the Wood River Valley, it’s only fitting that the two would eventually clash—and that the results would be breathtaking. Here we highlight a handful of water-inspired artists showing in and around Sun Valley this summer.
Born in Athens and educated in Tel Aviv and Paris, Yehouda Chaki is the artistic advisor at the Saidye Bronfman Centre in Montreal. Chaki’s work has been described as “a collision of the outside world with the artist’s innermost visceral perceptions.” His landscape and still-life paintings are created by selecting and assembling commonly known elements of nature so as to present us with a newly ordered vision of the world.
Chaki’s work will appear as part of Gallery Denovo’s 10th anniversary show in July.
Possessing a sincerity and courtesy reflective of his Idaho farm upbringing, Robert Moore was born in Burley and raised near the Snake River, which sparked his appreciation for nature. Sensitivity to his subject combined with an impressionistic flair characterize Moore’s landscape and still-life paintings. His use of vivid colors and frequent high-keyed values reveal a spiritually inspired joy. Moore’s work truly calls to Gem State lovers, especially his stunning collection of aspen-inspired pieces and his enchanting oil on canvas of Redfish Lake.
Moore’s work will be featured at the Kneeland Gallery this summer.
Winner of the Portland Art Museum’s prestigious Contemporary Northwest Art Awards of 2011, Megan Murphy is originally from Washington, but now calls the Valley home. Her paintings are derived from photographs she has taken, which often include elements of water, and are digitally altered, printed on transparencies and laminated between mirror and low iron glass. Many thin layers of paint and text are applied atop the glass, producing an image that is very still, faintly seen through horizontal lines of text.
Murphy’s work will be exhibited as part of a group show at Ochi Gallery this summer.
Success has come at a young age for painter and book artist, Brittany Sanders. At just 25, she was the youngest artist to appear at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (MOMA) “Highlights from the Permanent Collection” show in 2004. Sanders’ work is in the permanent collections of a handful of the finest exhibitors in the country, including MOMA and the Getty Museum. Based part-time out of a studio in Sun Valley, Sanders’ work focuses on themes of the temporal moment and the perception of truth, and often includes elements of water.
Sanders’ work will be featured this August at the Ochi Gallery located in Ketchum.
A KAYAK NAMED ALICE
Valley local designs the world’s lightest backpack kayak
When Chuck Corwin decided to design and build a boat back in the late ’90s, he never imagined it would become a project that would take more than a decade of his life to complete and would result in something nobody believed was possible.
Now 79, Chuck had wanted to build a boat since he was a kid, but hadn’t had the time or money until he retired 13 years ago. Upon retiring from his position as a civil engineer and, prior to that, from 20 years as a U.S. Aviation Cadet Navigator, Chuck finally began the project he had dreamed about for years.
Chuck said he had never been set on what type of boat to build until he and his wife, Barbara, moved to the Valley in 1975. He said living in the area and seeing the alpine lakes in the nearby mountain ranges gave him the desire to design a kayak he could carry up to those lakes—but not just any kayak—Chuck wanted to design a collapsible kayak that would weigh no more than 10 pounds.
“I can really get my kicks on Alturas or Pettit, but (alpine lakes) are just special. I mean, you’re not going to meet anybody out there on the water. You’ve got the whole lake to yourself,” Chuck said.
Although collapsible kayaks have existed for over 100 years, Chuck said the ones available when he started his project all weighed at least 30 pounds. In his mind, the idea of having to lug a 30-plus-pound pack up to an alpine lake negated the fun of it. He never wanted to have to carry more than 20 pounds total and figured a day hiker’s backpack requires room for about 10 pounds of food and supplies. So with the goal of two 10-pound foldable kayaks, one for him and one for his wife Barbara, Chuck got to work.
“I, for some reason, wanted to start with a totally clean slate and not be influenced by anything else,” Chuck said. “Starting with a clean slate in retrospect was kind of dumb. Personality flaw, I guess,” he chuckled.
Chuck worked his way through foam models, wooden frames (most of which he said later ended up in the fireplace), different hull designs and eventually settled on a single-hulled frame constructed of carbon tubes. He then perfected the waterproof, zipper-free fabric skin that snugly covers the frame and continued tweaking his design.
Barbara said she often doubted Chuck would ever fully finish the boat. For over a decade, he spent hours hidden in their home working on the boat he would eventually name Alice, after an alpine lake in the Sawtooth Mountains.
In 2010, Chuck finally finished his boat. Alice 4.2, the most current model, weighs 10 pounds, unfolds to be a 12-foot-long, 2-foot- wide, single-person kayak and packs into a 28-by-18-inch bundle that can fit into an average-sized backpack. Other commercially sold foldable kayaks of similar length average between 17 and 35 pounds.
And although Chuck’s production of one of the lightest foldable kayaks available took him so long that he can no longer physically make the trek to Alice Lake, he said he doesn’t regret anything.
“Hey, I had a good time,” Chuck said. “I was doing what I liked to do. This is recreation for me. There were certain things I could’ve done quicker and more efficiently, but I don’t have any regrets about any of that—I just had a good time.”
Chuck now sells the boat design to people interested in building their own Alices for $100 (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the Corwins take a day almost every week in the summer to float Pettit or Alturas on their kayaks.
“In the last two years, we have been enjoying the fruits of Alice,” Barbara said. “It is like riding on a feather. With just a couple of flicks, you’re moving forward very quickly, and it’s so quiet that we slip right up on shorebirds.” -Hailey Tucker
SAVING SILVER CREEK
A hallmark natural preserve turns thirty-five
Anyone who’s spent a little time down there has heard it.
You don’t even need to have good hearing to know how it sounds. Silver Creek music is something you feel.
As the man often credited with saving the spring-fed creek, Spencer Beebe, wrote in his book Cache: Creating Natural Economies, “‘Silver Creek music,’ something a blind person could enjoy with absolute wonder.”
But the song of Silver Creek, so lovely to birds and their watchers, a melody that calls to fly fishers from all over the world, almost became a much different tune.
While America was in the midst of celebrating the “Spirit of ’76,” Sun Valley Company needed cash to buy more chairlifts and was selling its 476 acres along the headwaters of Silver Creek. Jack Hemingway, Papa’s eldest son, was the chair of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. He was afraid one of the West’s finest spring streams would fall into the hands of developers, and the fishery would be ruined.
So Hemingway made a call to The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Northwest office in Oregon and a young man named Spencer Beebe answered. It only took Beebe, a fly fisherman himself, one visit to Silver Creek to get hooked on its sound. He and Hemingway then spent the rest of 1976 scrounging up financial support to purchase and preserve the property.
Thanks to their hard work, and the generosity of people like part-time Sun Valley resident George Gund, within the year a deal was struck and Silver Creek was saved. It became The Nature Conservancy’s first project in Idaho and has become, in the words of TNC’s Director of Communications, Matt Miller, “one of our most well-known projects and a model for spring creek management.”
As Beebe explained, “Silver Creek was the first serious spring creek restoration initiative that we could identify in North America. It spawned a whole movement, an industry of stream restoration across the West.”
This summer, Silver Creek Preserve will be celebrating its 35th anniversary. A season-long birthday party is in the works. For the most part, the stream itself is in great shape. But like most 35-year-olds, it’s starting to show some signs of age and has put on a little weight. Make that a lot of weight.
Due in large part to the beneficence of local farm and land owners like Bud Purdy, the preserve now covers more than 10,000 acres alongside the banks of the spring creek, which meanders through mountain meadows tucked alongside the gently rolling Picabo Hills.
To help maintain the stream’s health, a Watershed Enhancement Plan is in the works. Setbacks from the creek will be widened. Riparian areas will be improved and some dredging will be done. Sediment buildup is the biggest issue for Silver Creek, according to the preserve’s manager for the last six years, Dayna Gross.
Doing any work along Silver Creek isn’t always easy though. As Gross explained, “Overall, Silver Creek is in pretty darn good shape, but spring creek restoration is a different animal. There’s a lot of sensitivity with Silver Creek. People have a lot of passion for this place.”
Perhaps no one has more passion for Silver Creek than the man who helped save it. Spencer Beebe, by his own account, hasn’t spent enough time there. He’s been “too busy saving land,” as he puts it. But when asked if he still hears Silver Creek music, Beebe emphatically answered the same way anyone who has ever heard it does: “Yes!” -Mike McKenna