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The More Things Change, The More They … Change

Thu., Aug. 29, 1996

Returning to the office is bittersweet after logging a couple thousand miles in three power-tripping weeks of hiking, floating and biking through the region’s backcountry.

The exploration was a roller coaster ride of bliss and despair.

My timing was perfect for flycasting grasshopper patterns to rainbows on the Clark Fork River, but too early for the fall frenzy of smallmouth bass action on the lower Salmon.

Elk were anything but elusive on a hike through one of my favorite Blue Mountain hunting areas. One ridge resembled the aftermath of a stampede. The dearth of blue grouse, however, was troubling.

Several hiking expeditions with ambitious goals were hopelessly stalled by one of the best huckleberry crops in memory.

My wife, Meredith, has had to settle into a routine after every outing of pouring boiling water through the purple blotches in the kids’ clothing - even their underwear - to remove the huckleberry stains before starting the washer.

I learned, much to my chagrin, that my youngest daughter, Hillary, apparently doesn’t have the innate qualities of a serious angler.

This occurred to me as I was describing the enormous proportions of the huckleberries we found high in the Idaho Selkirks. “We picked berries,” I told a friend,”as big around as a half dollar.”

“No way, Dad,” Hillary interrupted. “They were the size of quarters.”

Would you take a kid like that fishing?

Huckleberries are in such profusion this year, the market is glutted.

“They’re so easy to find this year, people don’t need to buy them,” one man told me.

But that hasn’t prevented change in the commercial nature of huckleberry picking.

A few years ago, the people who picked for restaurants and roadside stands generally were family groups plucking a small amount of additional spending money from the mountainsides.

On several occasions this month, I came across truckloads of six-to-eight young men who were not in the mountains for a nature break or a little extra change.

They, and their bulging load of jugs and coolers, were there for serious business.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, that I had a little trouble after parking near one of their vehicles as I set off for a hike in the Selkirks near West Fork Lake. When I returned, my tires were flattened and the caps were stolen off my gas tanks.

Exploring gives you a perspective you can’t get from an office. It can be refreshing, or it can haunt you into the night.

I’ve been taking detailed notes for upcoming installments of “Routes: Classic Trips in the Inland Northwest,” the map feature that runs in the newspaper’s Sunday Outdoors & Travel section.

I’ve also been researching updates for the upcoming fifth printing of “100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest.”

Much has changed since I co-authored the guidebook with Ida Dolphin in 1987.

Too much.

The noise factor from legal and illegal use of powerboats has grown exponentially at Upper Priest Lake.

The North Idaho creeks that provided brook trout for my oldest daughter’s first fishing trip are choking in muck from failed forest roads.

Private property owners have shut down access to the south trailhead for the Yakima Rim trail.

Grotesque houses are fouling the skyline above the Little Spokane River. The homeowners pay big money for a great view of the natural area, while they steal the pristine view from those who hike and paddle along the waterway below.

The tradition of building simple cabins discretely camouflaged in the bays of Lake Coeur d’Alene and Priest Lake is giving way to flagrantly conspicuous structures. This overindulgence of glass and glitz wouldn’t blend into a suburb much less a shoreline on a mountain lake.

A woman who recognized me at a trailhead was compelled to give me a verbal thrashing for writing guides to backcountry hikes and paddle trips.

“You’re attracting too many people to all the good places,” she said.

I’d stop writing backcountry guides in a heartbeat if I thought it would do some good.

But the West has nothing to fear from people who follow trails by foot or rivers by canoe. People do minimal damage by visiting a choice bay or trout stream and then returning to a house served by the consolidated and efficient infrastructure.

The tragedy that’s unfolding in our region is spurred by people who, upon discovering the most beautiful, wildlife rich and pristine spot they’ve ever seen, immediately check to see if they can build a house on it.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rich Landers The Spokesman-Review

You can contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rich Landers The Spokesman-Review

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