Friday, February 26, 2021

Getting outdoors in uncertain times — a reflection

by BILL LOVE JR. Contributing Writer
| February 16, 2021 1:00 AM

Last April, seemingly an eternity ago, COVID-19 pandemic guidelines and restrictions created an uncertainty about whether we would enjoy our favorite outdoor pursuits.

At that time, the U.S. Forest Service and Idaho Parks Department had closed many recreational facilities including campgrounds, picnic areas and visitor centers. Most public lands, however, remained open for dispersed activities such as hiking, camping, boating, fishing and hunting. The Forest Service waived the fee for personal use firewood permits.

Washington state shut down almost all outdoor recreational sites and went a step further by even prohibiting fishing. As a result, our neighbors from the west crowded local boat launches and docks. Idaho Department of Fish and Game countered by temporarily stopping the sale of non-resident licenses. In doing so, they sacrificed revenue while protecting public health.

With winter now upon us, I will reflect upon a few purely anecdotal observations of getting outdoors during the pandemic season of 2020.

Public campgrounds filled to capacity as soon as they opened in June. And, they remained full. A drive through the Meadow Creek Campground on the Moyie River in early October revealed only a couple of empty sites during the normally quiet shoulder season. Come to find out, overflow guests from the nearby Moyie Mud Bog likely favored the soothing sound of flowing water over the roar of high octane engines that weekend.

The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho closed their popular Twin Rivers Canyon Resort, at the confluence of the Moyie and Kootenai Rivers, for the season. But Rex continued vehicle shuttles for floaters.

Perhaps a record number of hikers left boot tracks on area trails. Popular trailheads resembled shopping mall parking lots on a pre-pandemic Black Friday. Creative parking angles squeezed far more than the allotted ten vehicles into the designated spots at the Trout Creek trailhead northwest of Bonners Ferry. I doubt the Forest Service counted, however.

The usually ample parking area at Roman Nose Lakes overflowed, even on weekdays.

Tourists, as I call them, traveled from all over to enjoy our outdoor paradise. How often do you see Vermont license plates in our neck of the woods? The number of Texas rigs at trailheads, fishing holes and huckleberry patches convinced me that the Colorado Rockies are built-out and the Selkirk and Cabinet Mountain Ranges will become the next Dallas Alps.

Hikers outfitted themselves in a wide variety of attire. We encountered more than one person blending into the landscape wearing full camo, packing tactical gear and shouldering an assault weapon.

The 50-something woman regretted wearing flimsy sandals after slipping in loose rocks on the Harrison Lake Trail. Fortunately the party of six tended to her ankle injury.

Young parents introduced their toddlers to the great outdoors in 2020. On that same Harrison Lake hike in September, a couple passed us on the trail. Mom carried their eight-week-old daughter while dad packed the tent, sleeping bags and provisions for an overnight campout. The infant slept soundly, most likely waiting for midnight to become fussy.

Another set of parents with their ten-month-old daughter decided to camp at 7,000 feet elevation on Parker Ridge after observing Long Mountain Lake occupied with several other parties. Too bad the young girl won’t likely remember the gazillion stars visible on a magnificent summer night. Perhaps she will return at an older age to enjoy them.

Good job, parents. Keep those kids outdoors.

The Trout Creek segment of the Pend Oreille Wildlife Management Area gets more popular every year. With dusk approaching on a pleasant November afternoon, I stood along the crick breaking down my fly rod when a young woman jogged past me. Not breaking stride while intently focused on listening to her tunes, she waved.

It must have been girls’ day out. About five minutes later, a second young woman wearing camo and carrying a rifle hurriedly approached but paused to chat. I asked if she had a tree stand nearby. No, but she had thrown together a natural blind overlooking a small meadow — the perfect spot to spend the last hour of legal shooting. I wished her luck by offering, “It’s about a 30-minute walk to my rig. If I hear a shot, I’ll come back to help you pack the deer out.” I walked in silence not hearing a rifle blast. She probably returned other afternoons as the season lasted a few more days.

Indeed, the pandemic interrupted our lives in untold ways. But getting outdoors provided a small degree of normalcy for many of us.

Be well, be safe, be outdoors.