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Sunday, February 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Retry of Evel Knievel’s Snake River stunt will help schools

Evel Knievel is shown in his rocket on Sept. 8, 1974, before his failed attempt at a highly promoted 3/4-mile leap across Snake River Canyon in Idaho. (Associated Press)
Evel Knievel is shown in his rocket on Sept. 8, 1974, before his failed attempt at a highly promoted 3/4-mile leap across Snake River Canyon in Idaho. (Associated Press)

Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel never finished high school but his stunt-jumping legacy could become a million-dollar boon for Idaho schoolchildren .

As the 40th anniversary of Knievel’s attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon on a rocket-powered motorcycle approaches, a flurry of interest from those who want to retry the stunt has brought an unexpected windfall to Idaho schools. That’s because the state’s public school endowment owns the land on the rim of the canyon that includes the landing site – and after a hotly contested five-way auction last week, Texas motorcycle stuntman “Big Ed” Beckley won the rights to a two-year lease on the land for $993,000 plus a cut of any money collected from the jump.

“We had Cheshire-cat grins on our faces, because it kept going up and up and up,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “I was thinking, boy, that can buy a lot of books and stuff.”

On the auction block was a basic two-year lease calling for $25,000 a year plus a percentage of proceeds including broadcast rights and sponsorships. But with five bidders willing to pay that, the state opened up the lease rights to auction. Beckley won the lease by offering $943,000 in addition to the basic terms, all of which will be deposited into the state’s school endowment fund.

The best part for Idaho’s schools: The money gets paid, whether or not the jump comes off. Beckley’s already paid the first $25,000 annual rental fee; his $943,000 payment to the state is due Friday.

“It’ll be cashed when it’s received,” said Emily Callihan, spokeswoman for Idaho’s state Department of Lands. The money will go straight to the earnings reserve fund of the school endowment, from which annual payments to public schools are made each year. Earnings on the cash go to the permanent endowment, to build for the benefit of Idaho’s future school kids.

When Knievel first tried the jump in 1974, his parachute deployed prematurely, prompting him to drift back to the launch side of the canyon by the time he landed far below with only minor injuries. Idaho’s state Lands Department charged him only $5,000. “Evel Knievel, AKA Robert Knievel, P.O. Box 711, Butte Montana” was issued a temporary land use permit to launch his “Skycycle” across the canyon on Sept. 8, 1974.

But last summer, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that when it comes to signing leases on state endowment lands – like state-owned cabin sites at Priest Lake, for example – the state has to put the leases up for auction and give everyone a chance at them. So when another prospective stunt jumper contacted the state in July about a lease, the prospect was advertised and five bidders came forward.

The bidding on Friday in Boise, which started at $10,000 for the rights to the lease, stretched on for an hour and a half. Periodically, Ysursa said, the auctioneer reminded the crowd, “ ‘Remember, this is for the kids,’ and they continued to crank it up.’ … It was amazing to watch, and for it to get that high – my lord!”

The five bidders, in addition to Beckley, who hails from Bridgeport, Texas, were REO Development Group of Illinois; Ping Pong Productions of Los Angeles; Adrenaline Nation Inc. of Perris, Calif; and Omega Point Productions of Twin Falls.

Beckley, 63, who at nearly 300 pounds bills himself as the “World’s Largest Motorcycle Jumper,” was jubilant after winning the bid. “We are going to turn this into something huge,” he told the Twin Falls Times-News. “I’m the one who can get this done.”

Under the terms of the lease, Beckley must secure all necessary government permits for the stunt, and provide bonding, security, cleanup and reclamation of the site and $10 million in liability insurance.

Ysursa noted that the 1974 Knievel stunt, which drew a raucous crowd of thousands, had fewer restrictions. “I think they did an excellent job this time,” he said. “Hopefully, it goes off – and both the city and the public school kids reap some benefits.”

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