Arrow-right Camera


Animals Like Lake Refuge, For Sure But Priest Lake Neighbors Not Sure About Loel Fenwick’s Intentions

FROM FOR THE RECORD (Tuesday, August 19, 1997): Correction: School wrong: Two children of Loel and Olson Fenwick of Coolin attend the sixth and seventh grades in Moscow. The place of schooling was inaccurate in Monday’s paper.

Asked where he came up with the name Tanglefoot Wildlife Refuge, Loel Fenwick laughed.

“Just walk around,” he said.

Fenwick owns the 420-acre refuge on Rocky Point, which juts from the east shore of Priest Lake. Its woods are as dense as the thicket of rumors that surround Fenwick - doctor, inventor, activist, a man who favors rare floatplanes and wooden boats.

Is he a gazillionaire greenie who wants to stifle development around what he calls the country’s last pristine, deep-water alpine lake?

Or is he planning to mow down the trees and plant condos himself?

Fenwick swears he’s neither, although, “There will always be some people who think I’m a con, waiting for the price to be right.”

The peninsula has inspired development dreams for years. Fenwick has a planning map drawn up for a former owner, British billionaire James Goldsmith. It shows a golf course, a marina and about 400 townhouses.

Goldsmith also wanted to build a ski area near Priest Lake, based at Huckleberry Bay to the north. When public opposition helped defeat those plans, he sold the Rocky Point land.

Fenwick and his wife, Olson, bought the land a decade ago. He said it had been passed over by Don Barbieri, who ended up with the Huckleberry Bay site.

“Everyone thought we would be another developer. The rumors were very entertaining.”

Instead, the Spokane couple wanted to preserve the wild nature of the property.

They participate in an Idaho Department of Lands stewardship program, and get a tax break in exchange for avoiding intensive logging.

With county approval, Fenwick built a new access road so he could close one that was more disruptive to wildlife. He turned old logging trails into three miles of walking paths. Trailhead signs welcome visitors, but ask their help in protecting the refuge.

In the past few years, Fenwick has seen a gratifying boost in the number of animals.

“It’s as if they’ve seen the (refuge) signs,” he said.

“There’s some really nice ponds back there where a moose has calved two years so far. … Apart from cougars and bear, we’ve seen bobcat and lynx for the first time.”

Fenwick’s soft accent reflects his roots in South Africa. His father managed a game preserve there.

“I grew up in a piece of land that was equally beautiful - a bay in Zululand,” he said.

The community of 27 families who lived there is gone, he said, replaced with an industrial town of 60,000.

Fenwick, 52, came to the United States in 1974 at age 30.

During his residency in obstetrics at Sacred Heart Medical Center, he was dismayed by the American way of childbirth. Its emphasis on technology and drugs was a sharp contrast with the squat-down, walk-about, in-home childbearing that most African women experienced.

Fenwick became a player in the national movement to make childbirth more natural. He was amazed to find that in his adopted country a young unknown doctor could get the attention of national experts.

He decided to build a platform that would put a woman in whatever position she felt most comfortable during labor. His experimenting led to several patents, the first granted in 1979.

He started the Borning Corp., which manufactured an entire line of furniture for childbirth and newborn care. Before the Spokane company was sold to Hill Rom Corp. of Indiana in 1987, Fenwick said, the “Borning Bed” was being used in 27 countries.

Tanglefoot Wildlife Refuge is partly Fenwick’s way of repaying America for the opportunity it provided him, he said last week.

“I came here with nothing at all.”

Though they still have a Spokane house, the Fenwicks live at Priest Lake and are building a home on Rocky Point. Fenwick no longer has a medical practice. He keeps up with business matters from an office in his airplane hangar. The cavernous building is nearly hidden in a hillside on Cavanaugh Bay.

The younger of the Fenwick’s four children go to school in Priest Lake. The older ones attend the University of Idaho.

The doctor’s interest in the landscape extends beyond his property lines. He’s flown environmentalists who were documenting clearcuts. He’s traipsed into the woods with Idaho Department of Lands staffers to ease his concerns that state logging would ruin his views.

The state owns much of Rocky Point. The Blue Diamond Marina is there, too, and Fenwick’s opposition to its proposed expansion was one thing that brought him into the public eye.

The focus of his activism is the Priest Lake Association, which he and eight other property owners established last November.

Its stated goal: to preserve and enhance both the environment and economy.

One idea that’s arisen from the group is the incorporation of small communities scattered around Priest Lake. That could provide an official voice for residents. But the possibility of being hit by city taxes doesn’t sit well.

Sixty people packed into the Priest Lake Grange Hall in June to hear Fenwick speak.

Roy Broun, editor of the Priest Lake Newsletter, said many locals are making Fenwick out to be a villain or a hero.

“I’m reluctant to assign anybody to either category. I’ve been around too long,” said Broun. It’s clear, he added, that Fenwick has invested a lot of time and money in the Priest Lake Association.

Fenwick’s deep pockets cost him some local acceptance, says Bill White of the Selkirk-Priest Basin Association, a conservation group.

“My impression is he is a sincere, hardworking, environmentally aware person,” White said. “I don’t see a closet exploiter-developer there.”

Fenwick’s vision of Priest Lake’s future includes finding ways to expand the tourist season. That’s better than expanding resort businesses that are busy only a fraction of the year, he said.

“People here work very, very hard for very little money, and they have a very short season to do that in.”

His wealth, he said, gives him the luxury of paying attention to long-term issues. But he said everyone should be involved in the discussion.

“I want to be a catalyst,” Fenwick said, acknowledging: “There’s a fine line between that and imposing your own views.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Map of southern Priest Lake

MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition

Cut in the Spokane edition