The [Hidden] Gem State

Idaho is beautiful state with so many [unexpected] incredible natural sights peppered throughout its vast landscape.  Many of these are sights that you can’t see anywhere else.  Despite possessing so many wonderful places, the state never never feels crowded.  We were even here for the eclipse which was supposedly the largest swell in population during the State’s history.

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Thousand Springs State Park.  Here numerous springs pour down the walls of the Snake River Gorge, creating an oasis in the desert.

In this modern world, where National Park overcrowding has become a regular topic, it’s nice to find a place where one can truly escape to the wilderness for peace and quiet.  Even as someone that regularly goes to remote areas, the peace and quiet was something that I was unprepared for, and it’s EVERYWHERE across this vast state.

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Sunrise from the Seven Devils in Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

Speaking of National Parks, Idaho has some world class National Parks, National Forests, and State Parks.  Here you can climb through lava tubes, sandboard down the largest freestanding dune in the US, kayak on pristine alpine lakes, climb glacier covered mountains, raft through the largest wilderness in the lower 48, and gaze into North America’s deepest canyon (yes, it’s 2,000′ deeper than the Grand Canyon!).  There’s a reason why they call Idaho the Gem State and not “the potato state.”

What American Public Lands Mean to Me

When I think back on many of the best moments of my life, several common denominators can be observed.  One of the most typical of these is the type of places that these occurred.

My family has always seeked out places of natural beauty for our vacations and other recreational pursuits.  I certainly continue this legacy, as I am always heading out to some beautiful place to pursue my latest photographic or hiking pursuit.  Since meeting my wife, we have planned vacations that centered around places like this. Lucky for us, some of the most spectacular scenery to be found on terra firma is right here at home and it’s open to us all.

Whether it was combing the surf battered rocks of Oregon’s coast or craining our necks to see the canopy of a virgin redwood forest, most of these moments occured on American public lands.  We are fortunate that our country was expanded and settled in a time when awareness and respect for the natural environment wasn’t far off in the future.  Even more so that we had visionaries like Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir, Thomas Moran, and countless others influencing/creating national policy towards our wild treasures.

We hear a lot about what has made our country great in terms of our economy and our tenacious defense of liberty.  Our beautiful (and plentiful) public lands are one of the things that sets us apart from other countries.  Achievements like creating the world’s first national park and the Wilderness Act of 1964 have made us a worldwide leader in the preservation of earth’s natural treasures.

Below are some of my favorite memories created on our public lands:

 

High Allegheny National Park

That was the name of the proposed national park along the highest ridgelines of the Mid-Atlantic.  As I’ve previously noted, the area truly boasts “national park quality scenery.”  The National Park Service actually surveyed the proposed park in 2012 for entry into the system.  It’s a truly unique area that in addition to unique geological features boasts a microclimate that supports plants and animals found much further North in Canada.  During fall the area comes alive with brilliant colors.  Yellow aspen leaves shimmer in the wind, while red maple leaves dominate the slopes of the higher peaks.  Brilliant red blueberry bushes hug the ground in the meadows at Dolly Sods.

While the thought of the area being recognized as a national park excites me, I also have concerns.  Chiefly, I worry that increased promotion as a national park would draw hordes of crowds, putting pressure to build more visitor facilities, roads, and more trails in an already sensitive area.  Not to mention, there is still a lot of private land in the area, which could prove to be a problem if the area becomes overly popular.  “Come buy a condo with a national park view!”  I’m not the only one having second thoughts.  Local residents became so concerned that Senator Joe Manchin (WV) sent a letter to the National Park Service revoking his support of the park over concerns of access, hunting, and fishing restrictions.

West Virginians want to keep the WILD in “Wild and Wonderful”  and I think that that’s great.  Much of the land is already protected as congressionally designated wilderness and administered by the US Forest Service.  If anything, I’d say that the federally designated wilderness should be expanded to additional existing USFS land.  At the same time, existing private land owners will be able to keep their farms, which add to the area’s charm.  One of my favorite hikes involved hiking on a public Forest Service trail through a private farm leading to the Roaring Plains Wilderness.  The stark combination of the agrarian landscape with rugged wilderness is what makes this area of West Virginia so special.