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Tepee Springs fire closes escape route used yesterday for Salmon River floaters

Things have gotten worse at the Tepee Springs Fire, and the BLM’s Cottonwood Field Office just announced that the escape route that was being used to ferry rafters off the Salmon River at French Creek, via Forest Road 246 to McCall, is no longer safe to use.  

“In the interim, the Idaho County Sheriff’s Department is holding rafters at Vinegar Creek until fire activity safely permits them from being escorted from the area,” the BLM reported in a news release.   “Efforts are also underway to hold rafters further up the river and jet boats are being used to sweep the river for campers and floaters who may not have heard the closure is in effect.” An unprecedented closure order was issued yesterday for a 17.78 miles stretch of the Salmon River upstream of Riggins, as the fire burned toward the river and the town.

The BLM says plans are currently underway to employ piloted shuttle buses from Riggins along the Salmon River Road up-river to transport the stranded rafters, but said, “Fire behavior will determine the feasibility of the plan.” The Forest Service reported yesterday that 275 rafters were on the Main Salmon river, on six- to eight-day float trip that end in the closed area, where they had permits for takeouts yesterday, today or tomorrow. The Salmon is the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states; people come from all over the world to raft it.

The fire had jumped to 40,665 acres this morning, from just over 25,000 24 hours earlier.

The National Interagency Fire Center’s Inciweb site reports, “For those floaters that are coming out and the people that are shuttling them, there is currently a pilot car that is leading vehicles to egress and ingress into Vinegar Creek as fire activity allows. Food, water and support are being set up at Vinegar Creek if floaters are held due to fire activity that prevents them from safely being piloted from the area. All shuttles should be prepared to wait in Riggins. You will be allowed to enter when it is safe to travel into Vinegar Creek and you will be escorted into the area by a pilot car.” You can track the fire on Inciweb here.

Rafters evacuated off main Salmon River as wildfires advance

WILDFIRES — The lower portion of one of Idaho's signature wilderness river rafting areas has been engulfed in smoke and danger from a fire that's blown up today on the Lower Salmon River upstream from Riggins.

Rafting groups are being evacuated, as S-R reporter Betsy Russell is detailing here with ongoing coverage.

See an animated satellite map and look at the middle left portion of Idaho for graphic images of how the fire has blown up today in dry, windy conditions.

Rafters being pulled off famous Idaho river due to unprecedented wildfire closure

Rafters are being pulled off the Salmon River above Riggins in Idaho in an unprecedented nearly 18-mile river closure due to the approaching Tepee Springs Fire. The rafters are being loaded into hastily arranged shuttles and buses for a two-hour ride down a bumpy dirt road to McCall. “It’s the only way out,” said Suzanne Endsley, spokeswoman for the Cottonwood Field Office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

“We’ve been working with outfitters and guides to contact the shuttle buses, the trailers,” Endsley said. “Right now the Idaho County Sheriff is staffing at French Creek Road and Vinegar Creek. They are actually pulling folks off the river.”

According to the U.S. Forest Service, 275 people have current rafting permits with scheduled take-outs in the stretch today, tomorrow or the next day. If the closure extends longer, even more people could be affected. The stretch of river from the Corn Creek put-in to Riggins is a six- to eight-day float, according to the Forest Service; the closed area is about four miles downstream of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area.

The Salmon is the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states. Its whitewater thunders through narrow canyons and towering stone cliffs, and meanders through pine forests with white, sandy beaches and abundant wildlife; people come from all over the world to raft it. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Video: CdA raft guide launched into Lava Falls

WATERSPORTS — Jonah Grubb of Coeur d'Alene didn't have to worry about taking a bath on the recent day he guided rafters through the Grand Canyon's notoriously wet and wild Lava Falls rapid.

This amazing helmet cam video documents the deep hole the raft plunged into, ejecting Grubb from the rear rowing seat. 

Yes, that's the sky his feet are pointing toward before he does a little submarine action in the Colorado River. Yowzur!

Idaho whitewater river trip applications due Saturday

WATERSPORTS — River permits or the region’s world-class rafting streams are among the most coveted recreation reservations in the West — and Saturday, Jan. 31, is the deadline to apply.

River runners sometimes can obtain no-show permits for the Selway, Salmon, Middle Fork Salmon and Hells Canyon Snake rivers. Also, a portion of available permits may be held back and issued daily at ranger stations.

But locking in a reservation for a major river trip is key to planning.

Savvy trippers get a group of people to apply for dates to boost their chances in lottery drawings. Maximum group size on the rivers generally is around 30. Midweek launch dates tend to be easier to get than Friday-Sunday dates.

The toughest permit to bag is for the Selway, with odds of 1 in 52 last year. The easiest permit is the Snake River in Hells Canyon, with odds of 1 in 7.

Following are some of the most sought-after permits in the region.

• Idaho’s Selway, Salmon, Middle Fork Salmon and the Snake River in Hells Canyon.

Deadline for online applications (no paper applications allowed): Jan. 31. Details: http://1.usa.gov/15VvY8k.

• Montana’s Smith River, a classic 59-mile multiday floating and fishing experience in Central Montana.

Deadline for applications: Feb. 19. Details: fwp.mt.gov.

Minimum 850 cfs Spokane River flows trouble users

RIVERS — The Washington Department of Ecology's proposal to set a minimum allowable flow of 850 cfs is causing a stir among river users.

The Center for Environmental Law & Policy is encouraging paddlers and anglers to review the proposal and comment on the state's online survey.

  • Comments on the proposal are due today, Nov. 7, by 5 p.m.

The Northwest Whitewater Association, Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club and at least one fly fishing outfitter, Silver Bow Fly Shop, are urging users to demand higher minimum flows.

Says Silver Bow owner/guide Sean Visintainer:

We need your help! The Department of Ecology has proposed a streamflow rule for the Spokane River that would set the summertime (June-Sept) flows at a very low 850cfs. This flow is substantially lower than the Spokane's normal flow even at it's lowest in late summer. This proposed 850cfs flow could potentially be very harmful to our wild Redband trout. Low flows mean less habitat, less oxygen, warmer temps, and added strain by concentrating the trout to smaller areas.

Whitewater boaters flock to Tieton River flip-flop

WATERSPORTS — Whitewater enthusiasts are expecting a warm welcome from Washington's Tieton River along US 12 west of Yakima this weekend.

A large gathering of rafters and kayakers — private and commercial — is gearing up from across the region to take advantage of the annual "flip-flop." 

The annual September release of water that's been warming all summer in Rimrock Lake has begun in order to feed water to downstream crop irrigation needs as well as to boost salmon spawning.

The "flip-flop" term comes from the fact that the increased water down the Tieton helps make up for the reduction of flows in the Yakima River.

The result is an opportunity for great whitewater boating in the month of September.  

  • By the way, if you're an angler, the flip-flop spells the beginning of good fall trout fishing in the Yakima.

Boaters will come in droves to go with the flow from launch sites below Tieton Dam. The river runs down the generally sunny east slope of the Cascades.

Flows of 1,000 cfs to 3,000 cfs are considered ideal in the Tieton, which hit the 1,000 cfs mark on Aug. 28 and exceeded 2,000 cfs today.

Runs of 11 to 15 miles that have been too rocky and bumpy to boat all summer will fill with rushing water, ushering rafts and kayaks through almost continuous Class II to III rapids before the Tieton flows into the Naches River.

Since summer heat has dried up most of the region's whitewater for the season, many river runners consider theTieton River the last summer run.

The river has a steep gradient, dropping 58 feet per mile. The Tieton is not considered to be great for novice boaters because of its steady rush of whitewater.

Campers note: Fire restrictions could be in effect.

Spokane River access open at stateline site

WATERSPORTS — A launch site for drift boats, paddling craft and rafts has been remodeled and reopened at the stateline just downstream from the I-90 Bridge.

The Stateline access site includes parking and native landscaping planted by the Spokane Conservation District and volunteer groups on 800 feet of shoreline, said Andy Dunau of Spokane River Forum.

The forum has  details about this access site and others on the Spokane River Water Trail website.

Air Force helicopter rescues Marble Creek rafter

WATERSPORTS — The benefits of living near an Air Force Base with skilled rescue helicopter pilots have paid off for recreationists, most recently in a one-weekend blitz to help a Pacific Crest Trail hiker as well as a Spokane Valley rafter on a tributary to the St. Joe River.

Airmen from the 36th Rescue Flight answered the call to save not only one, but two lives in one weekend. We're just getting the details.

On June 13 at 5:30 p.m., the crew received a call that a kayaker was stranded 70 miles southeast of Fairchild Air Force Base, according to a report by Airman 1st Class Janelle Patiño of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs.

Within a few hours, the crew launched the UH-1N Huey and was enroute to the man's location.

Bart Rayniak, a retired Spokesman-Review photograher, had been kayaking near where Marble Creek flows into the St. Joe's River when his cataraft flipped, ejecting him into the cold water.

"There were some challenges that occurred during the rescue due to the weather, but the crew of Rescue 48 never gave up," said Maj. Jennings Marshall, the 36th RQF commander. "At 8:30 p.m., Capt. Nate Jolls, a 36th RQF pilot, with the survivor on board, began an approach back toward the ambulance where Maj. Montsho Corppetts, a 336th Training Support Squadron medic, was waiting."

"I was never able to truly thank my rescuers," Rayniak told the base reporter. "They were so wonderful! They put their lives on the line to save mine. They were amazing flyers and crew. They were professional and caring. Damn good at what they do. I will always be grateful."

A logging operation this year apparently has caused logs to slide into the river and increase the hazard for floaters during high water, the only time Marble Creek is navigable for rafts and kayaks.

  • Rayniak has not been available for further comment to the S-R.

Friends recovered his cataraft the next day. The video in the post below indicates the velocity of the water and the hazards in the Marble Creek posed by a logging operation. A look at this brief video explains why Rayniak couldn't just swim to safety even though he was fully decked out with dry suit and life vest.

Two days later, on June 15, the crew received a call at approximately 11:30 a.m. that there was an injured hiker along the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern Washington needing quick extraction.

"He had been walking along a steep and snowy section of the trail when he slipped and tumbled down the mountainside, hitting a tree and breaking several ribs," Marshall said. "Fortunately, his hiking buddy was able to call for help."

Capt. Erik Greendyke, the 36th RQF operations supervisor, worked with Marshall to assemble a crew. The crew then launched at 1 p.m. and followed the Methow River past Mazama, Wash., to the hiker's location.

"Other hikers prepared a bright orange tent along the ridgeline that helped us immediately identify the area with minimal searching," Marshall said. "As soon as we rescued the injured hiker and his hiker buddy, the survivor was then loaded onto an ambulance with the help of Capt. Josiah Hart, the 36th RQF standardization and evaluation liaison officer, and Staff Sgt. Nicholas Poe, a 36th RQF special missions aviator, and departed for the hospital."

Helicopter rescue operations can be dangerous, but the 36th RQF crews constantly train to maintain proficiency in rescue operations as part of the mission to support the Air Force's only Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school.

"We take great effort to ensure rescues are executed safely and with as little risk as possible," Marshall said. "Our normal training missions take place at Fairchild and in the Colville National Forest and we have been tasked to perform civilian rescues throughout the Pacific Northwest in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana."

Logs pose hazard to whitewater rafters in Marble Creek

WATERSPORTS — Whitewater rafters and kayakers were greeted by hazards in Marble Creek last weekend.

Logs from a logging operation apparently slid down a steep slope and into the tributary of the St. Joe River.

This is prime time for river runners before flows become too low in Marble Creek, but the stream flows fast with tight turns and hazards that make it for experts only.

Lifejackets aren’t for sissies

WATERSPORTS — The season's barely begun and already two drownings have been reported from private rafting trips on Idaho's Salmon River.

Neither victim was wearing a lifejacket on the RIVER OF NO RETURN, which, forgive me for being honest, is inexcusable.

Rafter dies after boat flips on Salmon River

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: RIGGINS, Idaho (AP) — Three of four rafters flipped into the Salmon River at Lake Creek Rapids made it back to the boat but a fourth rafter swept downstream died. The Idaho County Sheriff's Office says boaters on Tuesday pulled the man from the water just before noon about a mile downstream from the rapids and began CPR. Emergency responders continued CPR while transporting him to a medical helicopter in Riggins, but he was pronounced dead then they arrived. Authorities say the man wasn't wearing a life vest and was on a private rafting trip. His name hasn't been released.

Video: Rafter catches Moyie River whitewater

RIVERS — Whitewater river rafter Tanner Grant floated the Moyie River in North Idaho over the weekend and made this video documentary of the run from Meadow Creek to Moyie Dam at 2,300 cfs — that's 4 feet at the dam.

The 8-minute video is instructional for rafters who want to follow in his wake.  

But don't procrastinate.   Here's Grant's field report:

I wanted to share my run down the Moyie River in North Idaho from this last weekend.  The river is on the drop and time is running out, there was no wood in Eileen Dam or Hole in the Wall rapids, feel free to share on your blog if you want to, what an awesome run!

See Grant's descriptive videos of other rivers:

Spokane Riverkeeper float goes for the flow

RIVERS — The Spokane  Riverkeeper, which keeps a watchful eye on the health and other issues along Spokane's most precious resource, is planning a whitewater float trip that will leave participants smiling and raise a little money, too.

The Riverkeeper will join with ROW Adventures on June 26th at 4:30 p.m. for a fun and informative Happy Hour float down the river through Riverside State Park, the frothing Bowl and Pitcher rapids and the mischievous Devil's Toenail.

This trip costs $75, and ROW Adventures will be donating a major portion of the trip price back to Spokane Riverkeeper for its work for a Fishable and Swimmable Spokane River!

The fee includes a three hour trip and ALL equipment and transportation from the ROW Adventures office in downtown Spokane.

The plan calls for a short stop mid-way through the trip for some Happy Hour fun and to hear updates about the Riverkeeper program and Spokane River issues.

Seats on this trip are limited.  Book spots here. 


ROW revisits roots on Moyie River

WATERSPORTS — Peter Grubb, co-founder of ROW Adventures, was reminiscing Sunday while guiding rafters on the Moyie River east of Bonners Ferry.

"We pioneered commercial rafting on the Moyie in 1982 and this was the very first one-day trip ROW offered," Grubb said, commenting on the photo with Mount Clifty in the background. ROW was known then as River Odysseys West.

Commercial whitewater rafting was so foreign to North Idaho at the time, the Panhandle National Forests didn't even require ROW to have a commercial outfitter permit until the 1990s.

  • I was on one of those Moyie trips in '82 as ROW was beginning its commendable services of offering high, wet adventure to the common man, woman and child.


Enjoy a cold one to boost the Centennial Trail

TRAILS — Time to drink a local brew and boost our favorite trail along the Spokane River.

The Friends of the Centennial Trail is the charity of the month of May at the No-Li Brewhouse, 1003 E. Trent Ave. in Spokane.

For every Taster Tray (six 4-oz beer samples) a No-Li guest purchases, you will receive one token. The token can be used for $2 off merchandise at the pub, or the guest can choose to put the token in the Charity of the Month box up at the bar. 

At the end of the month, $2 for every token will be donated to Friends of the Centennial Trail!

Volunteers signing up to “unveil” the Centennial Trail

VOLUNTEER — More than 300 volunteers are signed up for the annual Unveil the Trail clean-up Friday, Saturday and Sunday (April 25-27)  to prepare the 37.5-mile Centennial Trail for it's busiest season

Friends of the Centennial Trail is working with 31 local businesses and non-profits to activate their ranks for picking up litter, pulling weeds, pruning shrubs and giving the Trail a clean sweep from the Washington/Idaho state line to Nine Mile Falls. 

The work is done in conjunction with Earth Day

“Spring cleaning work by Unveil the Trail volunteers gets the Centennial Trail ready for the 2.4 million users who will enjoy this incredible pathway this year," said Loreen McFaul, the friends group executive director. 

Trail rules, etiquette and safety information is posted on the 19 trailhead posters spanning the Trail, on printed maps sold by the Friends and on their website

“The four biggest areas of concern by Trail users are unleashed dogs, dog deposits left on/ near the Trail, bicyclists traveling faster than the 15 mph speed limit and parked vehicle break-ins at trailheads,” McFaul said.   

Users encountering potentially dangerous issues are encouraged to take photos, call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233 and Washington State Parks at (509) 465-5064.


What are these Spokane River rafters so happy about?

RIVER RAFTING — Talk about self-sacrifice.

Above you see some of the two-dozen people who selflessly volunteered to play the role of "clients" in a Peak 7 Adventures rafting guide training course on the Spokane River on Sunday.

The student guides (not shown) had less than two weeks of training, but as you can see, these "subjects" had nearly total faith on a dim, cloudy day that the fledgling skippers had just enough expertise to get them down the Spokane River — which was roaring at about 25,000 cfs — without any mishaps or frightening immersion in the frigid water.

They were right.

Bring on the real clients!

Google launches ‘River View’ virtual tour of Grand Canyon

Google Maps is making a splash today with another innovation in the way the service continues to revolutionize the way we see the world.

Google's pioneering Street View cameras have taken users to narrow cobblestone alleys in Spain using a tricycle, inside the Smithsonian with a push cart and to British Columbia’s snow-covered slopes by snowmobile.

In 2012, they put the technology in a backpack to showcase through the Internet the most popular hiking trails in Grand Canyon National Park.

Today, Google Maps has launched a new "river view" version of Street View that takes viewers through 286 miles of the Colorado River, including stunning views of the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, as seen from aboard a raft.

American Rivers staff joined Google Maps on an eight-day rafting trip through the Grand Canyon last August to take photos of the river. The Street View camera, on a special mount built for the raft, captured a full 360-degree photo sphere every few seconds.

The project was launched in partnership with American Rivers, a Washington D.C.-based environmental group. This marks the first time Google Maps has used its street view technology on a major whitewater river in the USA, but the cameras already have been mounted on jet boats for use on other rivers.

"Making Street View imagery available of the Colorado River is a tremendous opportunity for us to drive interest for this historical and natural landmark," said Google's Karin Tuxen-Bettman. "We hope this inspires viewers to take an active interest in preserving it."

The 1,450-mile Colorado River, which passes through seven states, is the main river of the Southwest.

American Rivers named the Colorado River America’s Most Endangered River in 2013 because of the threat of outdated water management, over-allocation and persistent drought.

Hangman Creek flows spike; rafters gearing up

RIVER RUNNING — Every local veteran rafter, kayaker and canoeist knows the recipe: Snow followed by warm temperatures and rain are the ingredients for the brief surge of flows needed for whitewater action on Hangman Creek.

Brownwater action, I mean.

The river spiked from under 200 cfs yesterday to more than 6,000 cfs this morning after last night's downpour on the snowy landscape.

Rafters love these conditions.

Canoeists would be safer to let the flows settle.  I personally like paddling the level around 1,200 cfs (see photo).

But it won't be long before Hangman settles down and once again becomes too low to float.

Lessons from rafting the Canyon: pee bottle

CAMPING — Urine management is required on rivers, but it's also worth consideration on virtually any camping trip where a vault toilet isn't close by camp.

I thought about this several times a day — not to mention a few more times at night — during my recent rafting-hiking adventure in Grand Canyon National Park.

Rafters on heavily used rivers such as the Colorado through the Grand Canyon, as well as on Idaho's wilderness rivers such as the Salmon and Selway, are asked to pee in the river rather on shores.  

Dilution is the solution to pollution.

Peeing on shore ultimately stinks and makes the campsite less appealing to those who follow.  Urine also attracts critters who crave the salt. This can be cute at first but menacing to those who follow.

The pee bottle for men or a pee bucket with a lid for women is a highly recommended item I've used for years — during snow storms climbing Mount McKinley, during late night nature calls while sleeping in the back of my pickup at hunting camp, in my tent in campgrounds…. you get the idea.   

On river trips especially, you can store the pee in the bottle for an entire evening and through the night and make one trip to a flowing section of the current to dispose of the urine rather than making numerous trips during the course of a camp.

The best bottles are wide-mouth plastic bottles with tight-sealing lids.

My time-tested favorite is the 48-ounce (bigger is better)  Nalgene Canteen — a flexible wide-mouth container that collapses flat for storage while traveling. 

 There, I'm relieved to have shared this with you.

Rafting, hiking Grand Canyon in winter had high, low points

ADVENTURING — Before I write my stories about winter adventuring in the Grand Canyon, I have to decide which I enjoyed more, the view up from the river or the view down from the rim!

Roskelley keynotes Riverside Park Foundation meeting

PUBLIC LANDS — John Roskelley, a Spokane mountaineer and former county commissioner, will be the keynote speaker at the first annual meeting of the Riverside State Park Foundation.

The public is invited to the meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29,  at the Mountain Gear retail store, 2002 N. Division.

The foundation,  a nonprofit group that supports Riverside State Park, also will feature Chris Guidotti, park manager, and Lucinda Whaley, Washington State Parks and Recreation commissioner from Spokane, speaking about the status and future of Riverside and the state's century-old parks system.

 Riverside, which borders the city of Spokane, is Washington's largest state park with two rivers, several campgrounds, an equestrian area, ORV area, cultural sites, boating and paddling access, miles and miles of mixed use trails, plus wildlife and stunning scenery. Riverside rangers also manage the Little Spokane River Natural Area, Columbia Plateau Trail and the Centennial Trail, among other duties.


Now is a great time to join the Riverside State Park Foundation as it introduces its newly created membership packages. The Foundation is instrumental with the fundraising for Riverside State Park through project support, education, volunteerism and events. For more information about the Riverside State Park Foundation, visit .

Centennial Trail reopens at Convention Center construction site

TRAILS — The section of the Spokane River Centennial Trail that's been closed for weeks because of sewer line construction at the Spokane Convention Center expansion site (see story) will reopen this afternoon.

The Friends of the Centennial Trail report that Mile 22.5 of the Centennial Trail, from Division Street Bridge west to King Cole Bridge at the Spokane Convention Center, flows through the first phase of restoring and re-landscaping the area.

"Like the newly discovered Spokane River Gorge views from the Trail at Kendall Yards, the 'new' Convention Center views show case Riverfront Park, the north bank of the river and Gonzaga University like never before," the Friends say in a email update.

"Extensive work to restore and landscape the Spokane River shoreline and bring a new first-phase surface to the Trail is beautiful.  Even in their dormant state, the addition of over 75 trees and hundreds of native plants make this area flourish.  Some Miracle Mile Medallions here have been carefully removed and stored.  They will be re-installed in numerical order when the project is completed by December, 2014."

The second phase of trail construction begins next September.  

Grand Canyon launches closed; rafters shattered

NATIONAL PARKS — They waited years to draw a permit and planned for months for their big float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon — one of the greatest whitewater trips in the world.

But because of the shutdown of the federal government, Grand Canyon rafters are being turned away and told they can't use their coveted launch permits.

Rattlesnakes common in Selway drainage; why not Lochsa?

WILDLIFE — River rafters, hikers and hunters are keenly aware that rattlesnakes are common on portions of the Selway River.

But why are there virtually now rattlesnakes on the Lochsa River, which joins the Lochsa near Lowell, Idaho, to form the Middle Fork Clearwater River?

Eric Barker, outdoor writer for the Lewiston Tribune made a strike at answering that question in a recent story that pegged on the scene in a Norman Maclean story noting a rattle snake between Grave Peak and Elk Summit.

The Selway is lousy with rattlers and the snakes can be found at some unexpected places, said retired outfitter and packer Jim Renshaw of Kooskia, noting that he killed a rattlesnake on top of Fog Mountain at an elevation of  5,000-6,000 feet.

Chuck Peterson, a herpetologist at Idaho State University, told Barker that rattlers can be found at elevations that would surprise many people. He said it is possible they can survive at Elk Summit, which sits above 6,000 feet.

“Every now and then you get some snakes in some elevations you wouldn’t expect them,” he said. “I don’t know about up there but further south, I think the highest elevations (where rattlers have been found) are near 7,000 feet around Challis.”

Some rattlesnakes will climb a few thousand feet to hunt in the warm summer months, he said. But they generally can’t survive long term at such heights. The seasons there are too short for the females to build up enough energy reserves to reproduce.

“We found out in areas that have less than 58 frost-free days, that seems to be the cut off point.”

But aspect and exposure are important to consider. He said snakes can survive at higher elevations if they are on sun-rich southern exposures.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know why rattlers are in one spot and not another. The Lochsa and Selway rivers are a prime example. The Selway is known for its abundant rattlesnake population and the Lochsa is all but free of them.

Marty Smith of Three Rivers Rafting at Lowell has often wondered why. He has spent much of his life at Lowell where the two rivers join to form the Middle Fork of the Clearwater. He’s never seen one on the Lochsa and has rarely seen them less than 10 miles from the mouth of the Selway.

But starting at the falls and proceeding up stream they are common in some. When Smith is on the river he thinks carefully about where he places his hands and feet. On the Lochsa, he is much more relaxed.

“I’m always surprised I have never ran across any on the Lochsa and on the Selway of course I have seen hundreds of them, if not thousands,” he said. “It’s the same terrain. You walk around on the (Lochsa’s) river bank on a pile of driftwood or bark and I always say, ‘I’m glad I’m not on the Selway right now or I’d be more on my toes, I would probably walk around that.’ ” 

In other words, nobody Barker contacted has yet figure out why rattlers draw the line at the Lochsa.

Middle Fork Salmon River rafters sickened at campsites

RIVERS — It's hard to believe that a wilderness whitewater raft trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River could be a sickening experience, but that's what's happening to dozens of rafters and even a Forest Service crew.

Idaho health officials are trying to determine what is causing the gastrointestinal illness that has affected commercial and private rafters on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, as well as fire personnel, according to a story just moved by the Associated Press.

Mike Taylor, an epidemiologist with the Eastern Idaho Public Health District, tells the Idaho Statesman that river guides have fallen ill and a Forest Service weed control crew had to be flown out after getting sick.

Taylor suspects it may be norovirus, a highly-contagious viral illness that causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and lasts for about two days.

About 50 people have reported getting ill while rafting or working on the river in the past month.

However, three people who were tested came back with three different illnesses — one had norovirus, one had E. coli and one had giardia.

So far, Taylor said, the only thing the victims have in common is being on the Middle Fork; they came from different rafting parties, and floated at different times.

“Even river guides have reported getting ill. A Forest Service weed control crew had to be flown out” after becoming ill, Taylor said.

The Middle Fork is isolated in rugged country, but it’s highly popular among rafters, with about 9,500 floating the same 104-mile stretch last summer. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the average commercial raft group has about 23 people, while the average private group has 11 people. In all, about 800 people a week share the same campsites, water stations and toilets along the site, giving germs a prime opportunity to spread.

Amy Baumer with the Salmon-Challis National Forest said the federal agency cleans Middle Fork facilities daily and tests drinking water every month. So far, she said, all water tests have been clean.

Taylor said the district is working with the Forest Service to inform rafters about the outbreak and teach them how to reduce the risk of getting sick on a trip.

He says rafters should wash their hands frequently and avoid drinking any untreated water. Filtering river or creek water won’t remove the virus; it must also be treated with a chemical disinfectant.

If norovirus is responsible for the outbreak, it could remain a problem all summer, he said.

“Norovirus is fairly stable in water and sunshine. Over the wintertime, it will be killed and we should start fresh next year,” Taylor said.

Spokane River advocates eye untapped recreational potential

RIVERS – Like the water flowing through town, efforts are steadily and quietly progressing to improve the Spokane River corridor.

A new river access at the stateline being developed by multiple agencies could be finished by November, says Andy Dunau of the Spokane River Forum.

The access will provide a convenient 3.5-mile float for anglers to Harvard Road.

The Spokane Conservation District is teaming with Trout Unlimited to boost native redband rainbow trout near Starr Road, he said. Large woody debris structures are being installed to provide habitat for juvenile trout.

S-R columnist Sean Vestal on Wednesday pointed out several exciting trail projects and possibilities from Riverfront Park downstream that are beginning to realize the untapped potential of the river gorge.

Learn more:

Program: Dunau will reveal how to find groups connected with the Spokane River and demonstrate a new Spokane River Water Trail website mapping resource for detailed information about the river’s flows, access points, paddling routes and much more in a free program Wednesday, 7 p.m. at REI.

Sign-up online to reserve a spot, rei.com/spokane.

Volunteer: Spokane River Centennial Trail work parties are set for today, Aug. 17, 25 and 31 to spruce up trailheads with painting, litter pickup, weeding and other light work organized by Friends of the Centennial Trail. Info: 795-4609. 

Volunteers needed for Centennial Trail projects

TRAILS — This is a good time to connect with Spokane's signature trail:

Centennial Trail Volunteer Days, August 11, 17, 25 and 31.

Join the Friends of the Centennial Trail for some light volunteer work to improve the trail heads by painting gates and Militery Cemetery trailhead
bulletin boards, clearing asphalt, picking up litter, weed-eating, pulling weeds, etc.

Work will start at the State Line and work westward to Mission Park, finishing two trail heads each weekend through August. 

Earn a Discover Pass with 24 hours of volunteer time!

Register here

Info: email Volunteer Coordinator Megan Ortega or call her at 509-795-4609.