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Idaho cancels 3-lot cabin site auction planned for Priest Lake next month

Idaho has dropped plans to auction off three undeveloped lakefront cabin sites on Priest Lake this summer, and instead will look at possibly auctioning up to three other lots on the lake next year. “Those three were not the ideal locations, after on-site review,” Thomas Felter, the state Lands Department’s manager of commercial and residential real estate, told the state Land Board this morning. Plus, he said, the department’s appraiser said it would take six to 12 months to properly market lakefront lots for auction.

The auction, initially planned for August or September, was designed to give the state a better sense of the true market value of bare lots on the lake, as it moves toward trading away or auctioning off existing cabin sites on the lake. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho state parks loaning gear to new campers

CAMPING – Idaho State Parks has partnered with The North Face to loan camping equipment at no charge to first-time campers through September.

The Explore Your Parks program is underway at two North Idaho state parks:

  • Hells Gate, (208) 799-5015.
  • Priest Lake, (208) 443-2200.

The offer’s also good at Lake Cascade State Park south of McCall.

New campers can check out tents, tarps, chairs, cooking equipment, lanterns and other gear – everything needed except sleeping bags and food.

The only costs are the normal campsite and reservation fees.

Participants are greeted by staff who will assist with campsite setup and offer tips on camping basics.

Often the state parks also have activities, such as staff-led nature hikes and family activities.

Field report: Kayaking Lion Creek near Priest Lake

PADDLING — Spokane kayaker Brian Jamieson and some friends had a hoot paddling the slick granite slides of Lion Creek near Priest Lake on Saturday, as you can see in his helmet-cam video above.

Lion Creek is a popular destination for Priest Lake visitors, who have worn out the bottoms of many swimsuits slipping down the slides on their butts in lower water.

Idaho to auction off three bare cabin-site lots on Priest Lake

Idaho will auction off three new undeveloped cabin sites on Priest Lake this year, partly to get a sense of the true bare-land values as the state moves toward divesting itself of the numerous state-owned lots there on which renters have built and owned cabins for years. The state Land Board approved the auction plan this morning; the auction will take place in late August or early September. The three lots, all contiguous and lakefront, will be marketed nationwide.

“Although historically there have been 354 cottage sites associated with Priest Lake, an additional 17 have been platted and are unleased and undeveloped at this time,” Thomas Felter, the state Lands Department’s manager of commercial and residential real estate, told the board, which consists of the state’s top elected officials. “We believe a sale auction would help determine the market value for vacant and unimproved lots.”

The state had planned to allow some voluntary auctions of existing cabin sites this year where the lessees wanted to go that route – and perhaps bid against competitors to keep their cabin sites, or get paid for their improvements if a competitor won the bidding - but the need to reappraise all the existing sites has slowed that process down. Felter said none of the existing Priest Lake cabin sites will be ready for voluntary auctions before 2014; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Photographer captures star show over Priest Lake

SKYWATCHING — The Milky Way and the northern lights were putting on a light show over Priest Lake, Idaho, Friday night for Spokane photographer Craig Goodwin.

This is why some people don't sleep after dark. Says Goodwin:

I was surprised to find so few shots of iconic Priest Lake under the stars so I went up last night to see if I could find a good location. I also wanted to try out star pictures on a lake.

The stars were stunning the sky was more colorful than I expected. I'm not sure what the green and purple are. Perhaps aurora borealis. They ebbed and flowed while I was out, with the pink in the lower left disappearing quickly.

I know it looks like I just cranked the saturation but this is pretty close to what came out of the camera at f2.8, 3200 ISO, and 30 seconds exposure.

See this photo bigger and in higher resolution.

See forecasts for auroa borealis activity.

IFG ends first round of lake trout sampling at Priest Lake

FISHING — More than 4,000 lake trout were caught and handled — most of them released — during the first phase of a Priest Lake fisheries assessment that ended May 17, the Idaho Fish and Game Department reports.

Most of those lake trout were tagged and released, but 27 percent were killed.

Here are the numbers pertaining to lake trout:

  • 4,071, total netted by commercial fishermen, including 88 recaptured trout.
  • 2957, tagged and released.
  • 1,114, killed:
    • 696, killed in netting or handling.
    • 418, sacrificed for age and diet research.

In addition, the project captured 3 bull trout, 1 kokanee, 95 suckers, 11 whitefish, and 22 pikeminnow—all of which were released alive, said Jim Fredericks, IFG regional fisheries manager.  

"I understand that the netting project is troubling to many people, but I’d like to stress three things," he said.
  1. The number of fish handled and killed in the assessment is a very small portion of the overall population.  Annual angler harvest has ranged from 15-30 thousand, so an additional 1,100 fish is not a significant impact to the population.
  2. The netting effort this spring was an assessment, not a suppression effort.  Over the next five years we will continue biological and social assessments as we develop a long-term management plan for Priest and Upper Priest lakes.  This will not be done without extensive public involvement.
  3. This effort represents the first comprehensive assessment of the lake trout population on Priest Lake – ever!  Not only will this give us some understanding of population size, but it will provide a wealth of information regarding age, growth rates, angler harvest rates, along with age/size structure of the population.  These are extremely valuable pieces of information regardless of how the population will be managed in long term.  
Researchers from the University of Idaho this summer will analyze the data, including lab work to identify stomach contents.
 
"We’ve had several anglers turn in tags from lake trout they caught this spring," Fredericks said. "These tag returns will help immensely with the population assessment, so if you do encounter one, please take the time to call the toll free telephone number and report your catch." 

Paddlers carefully eye Priest River flows

RIVERS – The best time to float the Priest River comes and goes, but the next couple of weeks will be worth checking out.

At its extremes – up to 10,500 cubic feet per second and down to 165 cfs – the river is basically too high for safe passage except for experts or too low to float without dragging a vessel over the rocks.

  • Ideal flows for experienced canoeists are in the range of 1,200-4,500 cfs (recorded at the gauge near Priest River, Idaho).

During summer through early fall, when most people would be lured to portions of the river downstream from Priest Lake, the water generally is too low to float without bouncing and scraping along the rocks.

However, inexperienced paddlers running inflatable boats can have a safer, enjoyable float at flows in the 600-1,000 cfs range in the Eight Mile Rapids stretch from McAbee Falls downstream.  (See description below.)

Prime times for experienced paddlers farther upstream are:

  • Spring runoff period of May and early June, but be especially ready for cold water and alert for new log jams or strainers.
  • Early October, a glorious, fall-color period when mosquitoes are gone and flows pick up to the 1,200 cfs range as water is allowed to flow over Outlet Dam to lower Priest Lake to winter levels.

Read on for more details and notes on flows from Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club diaries.

Priest Lake cabin owners can get new appraisals

Priest Lake cabin owners who object to new Idaho appraisals that showed the state-owned land under their lake homes ballooning in value this year by an average 84 percent can request new appraisals, the state Land Board decided Tuesday, and if they object to the new values, they can appeal. The catch: Once the new values are set, the leases for the cabin sites again would be offered up for potential conflict bids from others. And for those cabin owners who are already part of pending land exchanges aimed at trading other ground to the state so they can gain ownership of the land under their cabins, new appraisals might not be ready in time.

“People are going to have to decide what’s in their best interest,” said Chuck Lempesis, attorney for the Priest Lake State Lessees Association. But he called the Land Board’s unanimous decision “a very positive step forward” that provides “options for our lessees who are in difficult positions.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Past state cabin-site lease auctions have been tumultuous, controversial…

Here’s some interesting historical perspective from Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey: The last time Idaho held a conflict auction for state-owned cabin site leases was in 1987, when the state Land Board auctioned off 22 lots at Payette Lake in an effort to establish market values. It was a failure for the state; all but one of the 22 lots sold to existing leaseholders who paid the minimum bid, Popkey reports.

Plus, he reported, “The only bidders to contest an existing leaseholder were a Boise couple, Al and Sharon Hutchins, whose bids were booed by the crowd at a school gym in McCall. They got the lot, however, paying $46,000, $11,000 over the minimum.” You can read Popkey’s full report here.

Times have changed since then. In 1990, the state had scheduled a cottage-site conflict auction, but it was canceled, after then-Gov. Cecil Andrus signed into law new legislation protecting cabin-site lessees from conflict bids. In July of this year, the Idaho Supreme Court overturned that law as unconstitutional.

Back in 1990, then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Jerry Evans noted that the whole legality of the new law rested on charging market rents for the lots, an issue the state would struggle with over the following years, repeatedly backing off from proposed big rent increases after protests from longtime cabin owners, who own the cabins they’ve built on the state land. In fits and starts, though, rents rose substantially.

Popkey also notes that 85 percent of the state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake are leased to Idaho residents, but the figure at Priest Lake is just 10 percent. Many of the Priest Lake lessees are from the Spokane area, which is the largest population center near the lake. For Payette Lake, that population center is Boise.

In 2007, Idaho tried to auction off two new lakefront cabin sites at Priest Lake with a lease rate double what others then were being charged, 5 percent of value vs. 2.5 percent. It was a flop; no one bid. About 50 existing lease holders attending the auction at the Coeur d’Alene Inn burst into cheers. Now, lease rates are set at 4 percent of value per year; the state is required by the Idaho Constitution to manage its endowment land – including the cabin sites – for the maximum long-term return to the endowment’s beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public schools.

Five state cabin sites draw conflict bids

Four cabin owners on state-owned leased land at Priest Lake, and one at Payette Lake, have drawn conflict bidders who want to bid against them in the fall for the right to continue leasing the ground under their cabins. It’s the first time in decades that Idaho has faced that situation on its state-owned cabin sites on scenic Priest and Payette lakes; for years, a state law has protected the lessees from conflicting bids at lease renewal time, but the Idaho Supreme Court overturned that law in July as unconstitutional.

“The high bidder, if it’s not the current lessee, would have to pay the value of the improvements before they left the auction,” said Tom Schultz, director of the Idaho Department of Lands. “The current lessee could be the high bidder, or the conflictor could be the high bidder.”

After years of struggle over whether the rents charged for the lake cabin sites met the state’s constitutional requirement to manage its land endowment for the maximum long-term return to the endowment’s beneficiaries – the largest of which is Idaho’s public schools – the state’s moving toward getting out of the cabin-site business. But it still has 354 at Priest Lake and at least 150 at Payette Lake, and every one of those has its lease expiring Dec. 31.

As of Tuesday’s deadline – 5 p.m. Boise time – 343 of the 354 lessees at Priest Lake had applied to renew their leases, or 97 percent; and 134 of the 150 at Payette Lake had done the same, at 89 percent. The fate of the 11 other lots at Priest Lake and the 16 at Payette Lake is uncertain, but Schultz said some of those involve lessees who already were behind on their rent or otherwise in default on their leases.

Over the coming years – and even as soon as this summer - the state will look at land exchanges, auctions and other moves to protect endowment income and get the state out of the business of being a landlord for people’s longtime lake houses. That could allow some of the existing lessees to buy the land under their cabins. But for now, a small number of them could face competitors to keep the plots. “If you’re a lessee, you probably don’t look at it as a good thing,” Schultz said. “If you’re the state, it says at least on those sites, at that value, someone is willing to want to acquire that for that value. To me that’s a positive.”

The five cabin owners who are the targets of the conflict bids haven’t yet been identified; the state will begin notifying them Wednesday. If they successfully complete land exchanges or voluntary auctions to remove the lots from state ownership by October, they could avoid the conflict auctions. Otherwise, the conflict auctions for the right to lease those lots will be scheduled in the fall. Bids start at $1,000 for the right to take over the lease at the existing lease rate; the high bidder wins. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

HBO Blogs (4.29.13): Kids Derby Set

At As the Lake Churns, photographer/blogger Pecky Cox posts: "It’s time to start planning for the Priest Lake Annual Kids Free Fishing Derby. This year’s event will be held on Saturday, June 8th starting at 8:00 a.m. and will end at 1:00 p.m. Kids may fish all afternoon when the derby ends. We will again hold our event at the Priest Lake Golf Course. We will be at the small pond between the 7th and 10th holes. More here.

Huckleberries numbers (for week of April 21-27): 44,077 page-views/25,261 unique views

Three lawsuits filed over Priest Lake state cabin-site valuation hikes

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — Three lawsuits on behalf of 353 lease holders of cabin sites on Priest Lake in northern Idaho have been filed to prevent Idaho officials from increasing annual rent payments. The Bonner County Daily Bee reports (http://bit.ly/17Qkb7i) the lawsuits were filed Thursday and Friday in 1st District Court. A lawsuit filed Friday by the Priest Lake State Lessees Association represents 320 lease holders, and another lawsuit on Friday includes 17 more. A lawsuit filed Thursday includes 16 lease holders and names the Idaho Department of Lands, the Land Board and its five members, including Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. That lawsuit contends the appraisals by the Idaho Department of Lands are flawed and inaccurate. Rates are set to skyrocket as the state seeks to maximize its profit from state endowment land as it is required to do by law.

Clock ticking for state-owned cabin site lessees at Priest, Payette lakes…

The clock is ticking for state-owned cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes; current lessees must apply by April 30 if they want to continue to lease the land under their cabins from the state of Idaho next year. That’s also the deadline for conflict bidders who want to bid against the current lessees, whose leases all expire Dec. 31. Meanwhile, the state Land Board will let cabin owners on the Priest Lake sites flag factual errors in their new, much higher appraisals if they do so before the 30th.

 “We’ve got a Supreme Court decision that we have to go with,” said Gov. Butch Otter. “That’s where we are.”

A court decision last summer removed protections the state had granted lake cabin-site renters from competitive auctions when their leases come up. At the same time, the state is in the process of moving to get out of the cabin-site rental business, either through land exchanges, auctions or other moves that will keep income flowing to the state’s endowment. In the midst of all that, new state appraisals on the 354 Priest Lake cabin sites came in an average of 84 percent higher for next year, with some more than doubling.

The Idaho State Land Board is required by the state Constitution to manage state endowment lands for the maximum long-term return to the endowment’s beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public schools. Much of the state’s endowment is timber land on which logging brings in annual income; the cabin sites bring in far less.

“Obviously these people have enjoyed these cottage sites for generations, in some cases, and I certainly can see that,” Otter said. “I understand the anxiety that it’s caused, but it doesn’t lessen our obligation.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Priest Lake cabin owners face costly choice

For the first time ever, the state of Idaho is opening up every state-owned cabin site on Priest Lake to conflict bidding – meaning others could bid against the current cabin owners when the 354 leases come up Dec. 31; the same is true for the 165 cabins at Payette Lake. At the same time, new state-commissioned appraisals have come in a whopping 84 percent higher for next year for the land values on the Priest Lake state lots, which are used to calculate annual rents; the Payette Lake lots actually declined slightly in value in the news appraisals.  Some Priest Lake cabin owners who were in the midst of negotiating for land exchanges to get ownership of the land under their cabins now are finding out they can’t afford it.

“It will have an effect,” said state Lands Director Tom Schultz. He’s guessing that anywhere from 8 percent to 30 percent of the 354 Priest Lake cabin owners may default on their leases, walking away from cabins that in some cases have been in their families for generations.  “I’m not going to make false promises and say that it’s going to be OK, because for some of those folks, it may not be OK,” said Schultz, who will travel north to the Spokane Valley for a meeting with cabin owners on Wednesday night. “What I’ve found is that people would rather hear the truth and be given options for dealing with the truth.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Court say crashing into anchored boat isn’t illegal; county appeals

BOATING — Idaho boaters may want to upgrade their vessels to the equivalent of old Iron Sides if a court ruling on negligent boat driving holds.

Bonner County is appealing a North Idaho magistrate court judge’s ruling that the state’s statute regarding the negligent operation of a vessel is unconstitutionally vague.

That's good news for the boaters who crashed into anchored boats at Priest Lake last summer.

Read on for details from the Associated Press.

EPA Priest Lake Fight Inspires Thriller

Released this week, the latest thriller by New York Times best-selling author C.J. Box is inspired by the plight of Pacific Legal Foundation’s clients, Mike and Chantell Sackett of Priest Lake, Idaho, (pictured) who fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court for their right to challenge the abusive treatment they received from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Breaking Point” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) is C.J. Box’s thirteenth novel featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett.  The drama swirls around the murder of two EPA agents, the manhunt for a suspect, and the “breaking point” pressures on two men — Joe Pickett himself, and Butch Roberson, a local business owner whose life has been ripped apart by a federal agency’s cold-hearted bureaucratic arrogance. “‘Breaking Point’ is loosely based on the Sackett case, but with several fictional twists,” said C.J. Box.  “It’s a cautionary tale of what unchecked bureaucrats can do — and did — to ordinary folks under the radar in fly-over country/Pacific Legal Foundation news release. More here.

Thoughts?

Anglers divided on macks or kokes at Priest Lake

FISHING – As a divisive debate on managing nonnative lake trout with native cutthroats and popular kokanee at Priest Lake continues, Idaho Fish and Game officials will hold a public meeting Thursday (Feb. 28) in Priest River.

Biologists will present their evaluation of the fisheries and the results of opinion surveys starting at 7 p.m. at the Priest River Senior Center, 339 W. Jackson Center.

Agency researchers already have contracted with commercial boats to survey lake trout populations using gillnets this spring.

Lake trout, also called mackinaw, have dominated the Priest Lake fishery since they overpopulated the lake in the 1980s, collapsing the kokanee and bull trout populations, IFG biologists say. 

While the lake trout fishery has become popular with many anglers, other fishermen would prefer restoration of a kokanee, bull trout and cutthroat fishery, said Jim Fredericks, IFG regional fishery manager.

Bringing back kokanee and native fisheries would require gillnetting and angler incentives to significantly reduce the lake trout population, similar to what’s been done in recent years at Lake Pend Oreille.

Anglers are almost equally polarized in the debate, Fredericks said.

Lake trout are prolific, inexpensive to manage and provide a steady fishing opportunity, he said.

On the other hand, lake trout tend to dominate systems at the expense of other species, and they’re not as valuable to the recreation economy as kokanee, he said.

Lake trout to be netted for study at Priest Lake

FISHING – Coinciding with a debate about future management of the Priest Lake mackinaw fishery, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is joining a comprehensive study of the lake trout population.

The University of Idaho College of Natural Resources and the Kalispel Tribe will help in estimating the number of lake trout in Priest Lake and identifying growth and survival rates and food habits. 

Large-scale commercial netting equipment will be used, similar to that being used in Lake Pend Oreille.  From March through May, deepwater trapnets and short-duration set gillnets will be used to capture, measure, and mark lake trout with an individually numbered tag. 

A portion of the fish will be killed for age and stomach analysis but many fish will be marked and released in the lake so more data can be obtained from the anglers who catch them.

Public meetings on managing Priest Lake mackinaw are planned for late February, IFG officials said.

 Read on for more details from an IDFG media release.

Sled dog racing hits full stride this week

WINTER SPORTS — Sled dog racing hits high gear in the Inland Northwest starting this week — and skiers should note that skijoring is a category insome sled dog racing events nowadays.

The Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race starts today (Jan. 23) and runs through Jan. 26 in the Wallowa Mountains based out of Joseph, Ore. Known for its challenging elevation gain, the event includes a full-scale 200-mile race for teams of 12 dogs — a Yukon Quest qualifying race. Also scheduled is a 100-mile race for 8-dog teams, a new 62-mile, 2-day mid-distance "pot" race.

The Cascade Quest Sled Dog Race runs Feb. 1-3 based out of Lake Wenatchee. It includes four events: an 8-12 dog 100-mile stage race, a 6-dog 75-mile stage race, a 2 to 6-dog 24-mile recreation-class race and a purebred race. 

The Priest Lake Sled Dog Races run Feb. 1-3, based at the Priest Lake Airstrip, with a range of events including skijoring for skiers with their dogs. See the video above for a description of all the events.

Idaho Park-n-Ski free day promotes N. Idaho events

WINTER SPORTS — Special events, such as guided snowshoe hike and ski touring, are planned for Saturday's Park-n-Ski day at winter hot spots such as Priest Lake State Park and Fourth of July Pass while fees are being waived for parking.

A winter fat-biking demostration is being planned by Greasy Fingers Bikes at the Indian Creek Unit of Priest Lake State Park from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.   Info: (208) 443-2200.

The 20th annual Best Hand Fun Ski/Snowshoe is being sponsored with prizes and trail grooming by the Panhandle Nordic Club at Fourth of July Pass from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Look for updates here.  The Idaho Parks and Recreation Department website appears to be down. I'll be looking for more infor about activities at Farragut State Park.

 

Lake Pend Oreille kokanee fishing to be revived in 2013

FISHING — For the first time since 1999, anglers will be allowed to harvest kokanee in Lake Pend Oreille starting in 2013 under a fishing regulations adopted Thursday by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.

The popular fishery has rebounded enough under a fisheries recovery program to allow anglers to keep up to six kokanee a day.

The kokanee increase will allow a move back toward trophy rainbow trout management. A size and bag limit will be reinstated for rainbows: six rainbow trout, only one more than 20 inches long.

The $15 per rainbow angler incentive will no longer be in effect, but the $15 bounty remains in place for lake trout. 

The new rules will go into effec Jan. 1.

Elsewhere in the Panhandle Region, the kokanee limit was lowered to six fish in Priest and Upper Priest lakes. In Lake Pend Oreille anglers are allowed to harvest six kokanee and six rainbow trout – only one more than 20 inches long.

Clark Fork river and tributaries; Pack River and tributaries; and Grouse Creek and tributaries will be closed to trout harvest from December 1 to the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend.

Priest Lake fisherman finds wakeboarder’s missing finger inside large lake trout

S-R reporter Scott Maben has a rather amazing story today: A fisherman on Priest Lake hauled in a large lake trout on Sept. 11, and when he began cleaning it, he found what looked like a human finger. It's since been positively identified - it's one of four digits a Colbert, Wash. software developer lost in a wakeboarding accident on the lake back in June, when a looped line sheared off part of two fingers and all of two others. A sheriff's detective reported that the finger was in remarkably good condition; you can read Maben's full story here at spokesman.com.

Priest Lake mackinaw gives fisherman the finger

FISHING — Good fishermen always check the stomach contents of their fish to see what they've been eating, but few have had to drop the task at hand, go to the police and have the contents FINGER PRINTED to find out the source of the feed!

Read S-R reporter Scott Maben's story from Priest Lake, Idaho.

Priest Lake Fish Yields Human Finger

A fisherman cleaning a large lake trout he caught at Priest Lake found a human finger inside. Detectives were able to get a fingerprint off the severed digit and track it back to the owner: a 31-year-old wakeboarder who lost four fingers from his left hand during an accident on the lake more than two months earlier. On Sept. 11, Nolan Calvin reported that while fishing on the west side of Priest Lake, he caught a large lake trout, the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office said. Calvin began to clean the fish and discovered what he believed to be a human finger inside the fish. He put the finger on ice and reported the incident to the sheriff’s office. Detectives confirmed the finger was human and discovered there was sufficient ridge detail to obtain a latent fingerprint. Detectives began to search for a possible victim/Scott Maben, SR. More here. (Wikipedia photo of a mackinaw/lake trout)

Thoughts?

Mushroom club plans Priest Lake foray

FORAGING – The Spokane Mushroom Club’s annual fall foray is set for Oct. 5-7 at the Priest River Experimental Forest based in Priest River.

Experts lead daily group hikes to identify mushrooms collect specimens for educating the groups when they convene.

Participants who can’t spend the entire weekend can join the Saturday foray, which leaves promptly at 9 a.m., and attend Saturday’s Pot Luck set for 6 p.m.

Pre-registration is required by today (Sept. 24). Cost: $25.

Lodging arrangements can be made.

Contact Lynda Foreman, (509) 368-9969, email schroomerlyn@msn.com

Priest River prime for paddling starting Oct. 8

PADDLING — The drawdown of Priest Lake to its winter level will begin Oct. 8.

The drawdown generally is complete by early November and brings the lake down three feet from a summer elevation of 3,427.64 feet to the winter level of 3,424.64, said Karl Duncan, the dam operator.

The lake’s drawdown also launches the unofficial beginning of the paddling season on Priest River. Generally too low for canoes during the summer season, Priest River takes on new life as flows are increased.

Priest Lake Resort Is Culinary Gem

After winding through tree-lined roads or perhaps approaching by boat through ice-blue waters of Priest Lake, you’d be excused for not knowing that inside of Elkins Resort’s rustic log-cabin-style lodge is one of North Idaho’s culinary gems. In operation on the west side of the lake since 1932, Elkins’ cozy dining room consists of 17 tables that are almost all occupied during the summer months. Under the direction of chef Schuyler Price, formerly of Spokane’s Latah Bistro, Elkins has enjoyed a busy summer thus far, serving up a Northwest-centric menu of seafood (like the Alaskan halibut or seafood pasta) along with an array of steaks, including a creative shrimp-and-crab stuffed baseball-cut sirloin. Yes, that’s indeed shrimp and crab inside of a steak. A destination dining spot for the region, Elkins strives to be innovative while also staying true to the restaurant’s history/Mike Bookey, Pacific Northwest Inlander. More here. (Inlander photo)

Question: Have you ever dined at Elkins Resort?

Priest Lake cabin-site restrictive covenants win Land Board endorsement

Idaho's state Land Board voted unanimously today to impose restrictive covenants on state-owned cabin sites at Priest Lake, to ensure that the land use there doesn't change as some or all of the lots move to private ownership in the future. A few Priest Lake cabin owners whose cabins are on the state lots objected to the move, saying they didn't want a homeowner's association to enforce restrictions in the future, but most backed them; here, Land Board members hear comments from Priest Lake State Lessees Association President Denny Christensen, who spoke in favor. Kaari Burrows Davies, a dissenter, told the board, "We don't need to now put a homeowners' association in place that's going to cause division or wreck a good system that really is working." Several other cabin owners submitted emails to the board; one, from Neil Maris, said, "Please do not let the voices of a few disgruntled lessees influence your decision. They DO NOT speak for us!"

The state is moving toward possible land exchanges to rid the state endowment of the lakefront cabin sites after years of struggle to charge appropriate rents; the endowment is required by the Idaho Constitution to be managed for maximum long-term returns to its beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state's public schools. The Idaho Supreme Court recently overturned as unconstitutional a state law that protected the cabin sites from conflict auctions when leases come up.

The board, which consists of the state's top elected officials, held a special meeting today, after it put off the issue at its last regular meeting to request a formal legal opinion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. That opinion was delivered, and it found that the board has the authority to impose restrictive covenants on the land; it doesn't need leaseholders' consent to do so; and the standard that should govern the board's actions is its fiduciary responsibility to the endowment's beneficiaries. State consultants and Land Board staffers said covenants would protect the value of remaining state endowment land in the area once some cabin sites change ownership.

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa made the motion to approve the staff's recommendation to impose covenants on the cabin lots, citing the constitutional requirement to maximize long-term income for the beneficiaries. "In my humble opinion, I think CC&R's will do that," he said. His motion passed unanimously, with all five Land Board members present; in addition to Ysursa, they include Wasden; state schools Superintendent Tom Luna; acting state Controller Brandon Woolf; and Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the board.

Some Colville Forest area still inaccessible from storm

NATIONAL FORESTS — A week after a storm and brief surge of hurricane-force winds swept through the region, areas around Priest Lake and especially the Colville National Forest are still clogged with downed trees.

The good news is that powerline crews, government agencies and private citizens have been working their butts off with chain saws and equipment to make progress.  The bad news is that some areas are a big mess and still unaccessible.

Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area reports all campgrounds and facilities are open.  Priest Lake Range Station reported that some trails got "hammered" with blowdowns, but no specific reports were available. Forest trail crews and volunteers had just finished a logging out 192 miles of trails on the Priest Lake District the week before the storm struck, killing a man in his pickup in the Priest Lake area.

Generally, the Panhandle National Forests came out of the dangerous storm fairly well, said Jason Kirchner, forest spokesman in Coeur d'Alene.

But the Colville Forest's Republic Ranger District and portions of the Collville Indian Reservation, where assistance is still being requested, are a different story.

Here's the word from Colville Forest spokesman Franklin Pemberton:

The impact to recreation specific to the Republic R.D. from this event is severe. 

Crews have made significant progress on getting all of the main forest service (FS) roads open and "passible".  All of the main FS roads are passible for a full-size pickup truck, but motorhomes, camp trailers and horse trailers are not recommended.  Work continues to open all of the main FS roads completely to larger size vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines and is expected to be completed by this Friday.  Many secondary FS roads remain blocked by down timber and will be opened once all the main roads are completed.

Many roads to trailheads remain blocked and trail conditions are being reported as being blocked by down timber.  All campgrounds are open with the exception of Ten Mile Campground.  Crews will continue to work to open secondary roads that lead to recreation sites and trailheads, but there is no estimate of when this work will be completed.

Forest officials are still recommending that visitors to the Republic R.D. stay in the developed campgrounds and limit their travel on the forest as much as possible.

Contact the Republic Ranger District Office, (509) 775-7400 for specific recreation questions.