The Economy of a River

After spending most of my summer living on the middle fork of the Salmon, I learned just how much time and effort it takes to keep this pristine and beloved functioning for commercial use. When the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 was first established the Middle Fork of the Salmon was just as popular as it is today but had little to no regulation. Campsites were regularly mistreated and filled with waste and there was no structured timeline for cleaning and maintenance. Before the Scenic River and Wilderness Act, the Middle Fork was overused and there was not a standard leave no trace for the area.

Recreational use of the Salmon started in the late 50’s and not long after became a commercial side to the Middle Fork. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, many of the middle folk’s premiere outfitters started forming. Since the 70’s the number of outfitters has only grown and all of them are excellent alternatives for privates that want to journey down the river and may not have the equipment and experience to go down the river on their own.

During the “Dead Head” season, they will often launch from either of the boat ramps without any passengers and will have their passengers transported by plane. Many local airlines operate in and around the Salmon River. When the water is low in early spring and late summer, it is not uncommon to have almost 50 planes land on the airstrip at Indian Creek Guard Station (Where I lived and worked for nearly a month). There are several airstrips along the middle some are publicly owned, some are on private land and others are operated by the Forest Service.

On the private land on the Middle Fork, some businesses exist almost exclusively on the river. There is Flying B Ranch which operates as an airstrip, ranch, trail workers, lodge, and most uniquely as a convenience store for boaters. Pistol Creek Ranch, which operates as a dude ranch, but also as a pseudo timeshare/timeshare. Another business, that took its namesake from the river is the Middle Fork Lodge. Middle Fork Lodge exists as a Dude Ranch and river guides.

All the outfitters and lodges along the Middle Fork of the Salmon belong to the Middle Fork Outfitters Association which acts as the voice of all the businesses. Every year the MFOA runs the Redd Alert Awareness program. The Redd Alert program was created to inform all the boaters of the Salmon Spawning runs that are actively happening in the Middle Fork. They supply all housing, food, and informational materials for the volunteers that they fly out to Indian Creek Guard Station.

Now, not to neglect the Forest Service’s role on the Middle Fork. The rangers on the Middle Fork operate on many different facets. The public views these rangers at the boat launch stations as both the educators and the permit allocators. The rangers at boat ramp stations also work behind the scenes on maintenance and sanitation. One of the most prized ranger positions on the Middle Fork is that of the River Ranger. Every week they send groups of river rangers down both the Middle Fork and the Main Salmon rivers. On these trips, they enforce river etiquette, proper permitting, Frizzell campsites, and overall care and protection of the river.

There are many moving pieces to keep the Middle Fork of the Salmon clean and to let boaters fully enjoy it. It helps that everyone operating on the river has the same goal of protecting and recreating.

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