What Rivers Mean to Me: a personal essay by IRU Board Member Ken Anderson

Ken and Sharon Anderson are content to explore in any of Idaho's seasons. Photo courtesy Ken Anderson.

By Ken Anderson, IRU Board Member

I grew up near the banks of the Hackensack River in New Jersey. The river was a brown lifeless stream adorned with old tires, rusted bed springs, and discarded refrigerators. My parents forbade us from playing near the river for fear of contracting a terminal disease. In the 1950s, environmental concerns were not as important as they are today. 

In the mid-1960s, my family moved to the Jersey Shore where I became an ocean lifeguard and developed an appreciation for water. By the mid-1970s, I made my way to Idaho with my wife, Sharon. We immediately fell in love with the rivers, lakes and mountains. 

We took our first river trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon in 1979, and since then have done over 65 additional trips and hope to do many more. Our daughter, Megan, experienced her first Middle Fork trip when she was 12 and went on to spend several summers guiding on the forks of the Payette and Middle Fork Salmon. Our son, Kyle, took his first river trip on the Main Salmon when he was 10. Both are still avid river runners. My wife has not done as many trips as I because, as she says, “There needed to be one responsible parent” while our children were growing up.

I became involved with Idaho Rivers United because it is the watchdog for protecting rivers like the Middle Fork. It keeps them free flowing and works toward restoration of Idaho’s salmon and steelhead fisheries. I never want to see the Hackensack River of my childhood materialize in Idaho. In the past few years, IRU has successfully helped designate the Owyhee and Bruneau Rivers as Wild and Scenic. Having rafted these rivers several times, I encourage the review other deserving river corridors such as the Payette, South Fork of the Salmon and North Fork of the Clearwater for Wild and Scenic designations. 

Additionally, IRU has worked to protect existing Wild and Scenic corridors on the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers from oil companies that planned to truck enormous megaloads of industrial equipment through the area. This would have damaged the river and turned the road into a parking lot. I have also seen the Bear River Narrows in southeast Idaho, where an ongoing dam proposal threatens the destruction of a valuable habitat for Bonneville cutthroat trout. IRU has so far thwarted these ill-advised proposals, but who knows what would have happened if IRU wasn’t there to protect these rivers?

I am a board member of IRU because I believe in the work the organization is doing, and it is an opportunity for me to give back by donating my time and money for the betterment of our rivers. I love these rivers and want them protected. I have benefitted from the recreational opportunities provided by wild and scenic rivers, and I want to make sure my four granddaughters have the same opportunities. Please take the time to become involved. The conservation work being done by IRU’s dedicated staff is critical to the preservation of Idaho’s rivers, lakes, streams and native fisheries. 

Please don’t take Idaho’s rivers for granted.