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Lake Is Public’s Own Private Idaho

Wed., March 15, 1995

The writing has been on Dick Russell’s cabin wall for a long time.

For almost three decades, he’s been told that someday his family would have to give up its Bartoo Island cabin at Priest Lake. The public owned the land beneath it.

Despite the advance warning, Russell wasn’t ready in 1986 to relinquish the cabin and its summertime memories. And he’s not prepared to do so now that the U.S. Forest Service has decided not to renew his permit.

In fact, he’s suing to keep it.

No one should blame the Forest Service for finally moving ahead with plans to remove cabins so campers, boaters and picnickers can enjoy the sites. If anything, USFS officials have agonized too long over the decision.

Now, USFS officials are showing commendable sensitivity in handling Russell and others who lost their permits. For example, they have offered to barge out each family’s belongings and even the lumber from their cabins.

As a retired real estate broker, Russell should know that land uses and values change.

Originally, the government offered summer-home permits to encourage recreational use of the national forest. In 1952, when Russell, his parents and seven siblings jointly bought a small cabin, they had Bartoo Island virtually to themselves.

Progress found them later, after a highway was punched into the Bonner County wilderness, paving the way for tourism.

The increasing popularity of the lake and its two biggest islands, Kalispell and Bartoo, prompted the Forest Service to tell 18 of 139 cabin owners in 1966 that their permits wouldn’t be renewed after 1986. Some, like Russell, were allowed to stay past the deadline because they had overpayment credits to use up.

No one can fault Russell for trying to hang onto his island paradise. For 43 years, the cabin has been a hub for summertime family fun. Today, the 70-year-old widower sees the cabin as a lure to keep his grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the area and close to each other.

But times change.

The Forest Service no longer needs to lure visitors to the popular waterway. Rather, Priest Lake is faced with overuse, and clearing out cabins is part of an overall plan for island management.

USFS officials should close this painful chapter and manage lake recreation for the greatest good today - and that’s for those who have never experienced the joy of a lakeside retreat.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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