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Celebrating Idahos Payette River


By Zimo – Idaho Statesman Edition Date: 07/22/07 Link is HERE

The weather was blasting past 100 degrees and the parking lot for the whitewater run on the Main Payette River at Banks was overflowing with trucks, cars, boat trailers and buses.
The smell of sunscreen was thick as throngs of tanned, swimsuit-clad river runners carried rafts and kayaks to the river. It was a circus, but a good circus.
That’s because thousands were enjoying the cool waters of the Payette River and the bouncing rapids along the seven-mile run from Banks to Beehive Bend last weekend, as they have all summer.
It’s estimated that 60,000 to 100,000 people float the North, Main and South forks of the Payette River each year.
Stop by the Banks or Beehive parking lots along Idaho 55 on a hot weekend, and you’ll realize what an incredible river resource we have less than an hour from Boise.
There aren’t many towns with Class III (intermediate), Class IV (advanced) and Class V (super expert) rivers so close. Some kayakers back East drive days to get to a river. We drive minutes.
The river system isn’t used by only boaters. Swimmers, picnickers, campers and anglers also enjoy it. The Banks Beach, south of Banks, looks like Coney Island on weekends.
But think about this for a moment. The incredible resource we know as the Payette River might not be here today if it weren’t for the efforts of conservationists and whitewater boaters who fought to keep dams off the river system.
The threats started almost 30 years ago. With that in mind, there’s a party to celebrate the Payette River, from 6 to 9 p.m. July 30, at Idaho River Sports, 3100 Pleasanton Ave. A suggested donation of $5 includes barbecue and a drink.
Here’s a quick history. The onslaught on the Payette River system started with a proposed hydropower project on the North Fork in 1978. The Idaho Whitewater Association was soon formed to fight the project.
Luckily, the project was withdrawn in the early 1980s because of public opinion, changes in the energy market and opposition from the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.
But another attack came in 1986 with a proposal to dam the North Fork.
Damming the North Fork would have been a disaster because it is one of the most famous Class V boating stretches in the country.
It also supplies water for the Class III fun stretch from Banks to Beehive Bend on the Main Payette.
There was another threat to the Payette River system back in the late ’70s and early ’80s when people began talking about putting a dam on the South Fork in the beautiful Canyon stretch between Garden Valley and Lowman.
Can you imagine if that stretch, which also is an incredibly popular whitewater run, today was under a warm, stagnant, silty reservoir? Today, its waters run cold and clear.
The Payette River system is a unique resource because four forks of the river provide different river-running experiences.
Here’s a little geography. The North and South forks of the Payette come together at Banks and form the Main Payette River. There’s another section, the Middle Fork, which flows through the Crouch area and joins the South Fork. A section of the Middle Fork is popular for easy canoeing.
Anyway, threats to the North Fork also spawned another conservation group called the Friends of the Payette.
Hundreds of volunteers worked untold hours fighting for a free-flowing Payette. They hit the halls of the state legislature, went to Congress, lobbied the Idaho Water Resource Board and also took to the streets.
In the early ’90s, they succeeded in getting protection for the North Fork Payette, the South Fork Payette from the Sawtooth National Recreation Area to Banks and the Main Payette from Banks to Beehive Bend.
In 1999, a bill proposed by the Idaho Water Resource Board to protect the Payette River was adopted by the Idaho Legislature.
As a result of the fight for the Payette, another organization was spawned. It is Idaho Rivers United, which is a statewide river conservation organization.
Anyway, when all the smoke cleared in the late ’90s, the rivers we know and love were protected from dams.
“It was a tremendous resource that we almost lost,” said Bill Sedivy executive director of Idaho Rivers United.
It doesn’t mean that friends and lovers of the Payette should relax.
The North, South and Main forks of the Payette are state-protected rivers, and short-sighted lawmakers could come up with a hair-brained scheme to reverse the decision if the energy market were to change and the price was right.
But for now, thanks to all those who fought to keep the Payette River system the way it is today.
Party on!