Kayaking event made possible by free-flowing river

By Jessica Murri, Membership Director

Spectators line the banks of the Payette while boaters drop into Jacob’s Ladder. (Photo by Jessica Murri)

Last Saturday, June 8, I set up an Idaho Rivers United booth in Crouch, Idaho for the second annual North Fork Championship.  It felt great to be at an event made possible by river conservation. Our roots as a conservation group began on the North Fork of the Payette River. Back in the late 1980s, a dam was proposed at Smiths Ferry. If the dam was built, most of the river would be diverted for irrigation and the North Fork would be a trickle.

Try having a world-class whitewater kayaking race on that.

If you’re not familiar with the North Fork Championship, it’s a three-day event with kayakers from all over the world competing. The main event is a race down Jacob’s Ladder, a continuous Class V rapid, where slalom gates are hung from trees.  Fastest time wins. This year, Louis Geltman of White Salmon, Wash., took first place, followed by Gerd Serrasolesses and Rush Sturges.  Geltman finished the course in less than two minutes.

After the race, Weilmunster Park in Crouch filled with boaters, spectators, venders and beer. Our IRU booth lined up with tents from Northwest River Supplies, Payette Brewing and other IRU business partners.  We got a positive vibe from folks milling around the park, excited about our organization and the work we do.

It was amazing to look around the crowded park and think about another old dam proposal at Banks. It would have put the entire park under water as part of the Garden Valley Reservoir.  But Idaho Whitewater Association and Friends of the Payette, the group from which IRU emerged, kept the dams from being built.

I can’t imagine a powerful and exciting rapid like Jacob’s Ladder as a trickle.  I can’t imagine Garden Valley almost completely underwater, nor the ecological repercussions those projects would have had.

The North Fork of the Payette is a whitewater gem in the state of Idaho, and the NFC would be impossible without it. Even though Idaho Rivers United isn’t a boater advocacy group, it’s awesome to see that recreationalists and conservationists have so many of the same values in mind. We all depend on the same thing: healthy, free-flowing rivers.