UPDATED - Proposed bill threatens Henry's Fork in Idaho

An angler soaks up the moment at the end of a day fishing the Henry's Fork in eastern Idaho. Steve Schmidt photo.

Editor's Note - Wednesday morning the bill was dropped from consideration during the 2018 Idaho Legislative Session. Here's a reaction from Trout Unlimited's Michael Gibson, who serves as the Idaho Field Director for the Sportsmen's Conservation Project.

"House Bill 496 finally died on the floor of the House and will be pulled off the amending order. So ends its run for the 2018 Legislature," Gibson said. "In their zeal to change how Idaho does official business, legislators and the House almost lost the crown jewel of Idaho’s State Parks. If not for groups like Trout Unlimited, Friends of Harriman State Park and others engaged at the legislature this could have been a very different ending."

By Brett Prettyman

The Henry’s Fork is typically near the top when it comes to creating a life list of places for fly fishers to visit. Those who make the trip once are often haunted by an intense draw to return to eastern Idaho for another chance to experience the aura of the place.

So, in a sense, the Henry’s Fork is never crossed off that life list. At most, anglers might add a check mark, star or a smiley face next to the name and make plans for another trip.

When people talk about the Henry’s Fork they are most often referring to a portion of the river known as the Railroad Ranch in Island Park, Idaho. The ranch earned this moniker because two different owners of the land had strong ties to the railroad industry.

Guests at Harriman State Park ride the trails through the cabin area of the hsitoric Railroad Ranch. Brett Prettyman photo.

According to the Henry’s Fork Foundation, one of the family members who managed the ranch, Roland Harriman, had a serious passion for fly fishing. In the early 1960s the Harriman family started the process of transferring their land, 22 square miles and the ranch, to Idaho. Harriman State Park opened in July of 1982.

Families, including mine, have benefitted from the generosity of the Harrimans while making special memories on the ranch ever since. The cabins at the state park provide easy and ample access to the river. Horseback riding, hiking and cross-country skiing are some of the other things available for visitors to the ranch. Even when we can’t find the time to stay at Harriman, my family stops for a picnic while coming or going from trips to Montana or Yellowstone National Park.

A young guest at Harriman State Park scans the Henry's Fork looking for wildlife or maybe trying to find his dad among the anglers. Brett Prettyman photo.

The Harriman family had some stipulations when they handed over their land to the state. Stipulations that are likely to be broken if a bill currently being considered in the Idaho Legislative session is passed.

The Harrimans wanted more than just their land to become a place for the people of our country to connect with woods, wildlife and the history of ranching. They wanted a number of parks in Idaho, so they had it written into the agreement.

From the Friends of Harriman State Park of Idaho website.

“The People of the State of Idaho acting by and through the Legislature of Idaho will establish pursuant to law a professionally staffed career Park Service whose personnel shall be chosen on the basis of merit alone, and which shall be administered under merit system procedures for personnel administration, and the said Park Service shall, when established, be vested with the control and administration of the Park, subject to the advice and consent of the Governor of Idaho.”

House Bill 496 would allow the Idaho governor to appoint directors for the Department of Correction, the Idaho Transportation Department and the Department of Parks andRecreation “all of whom shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor”.

And all this time I thought state parks were for the pleasure of the people.

An angler prepares to release a trout landed on the Henry's Fork. Steve Schmidt photo.

Friends of Harriman State Park of Idaho have confirmed that legal representatives of the Harriman family sent a letter to the chair of the House Affairs committee and the sponsor of HB496 reminding the state representatives that if staff for Idaho Parks and Recreation become politically appointed rather than professionally selected that the deal is off and the Railroad Ranch would go back to the family.

No one is talking about what that might mean, but you can imagine what could happen.

The bill is currently parked in the amending order,  but it could emerge for debate and a possible vote at any time.  It was put on the amending order to await an Attorney General opinion on the issue.  And, although the Idaho AG doesn’t think the Ranch is in jeopardy, what really matters is what the Harriman Trust Attorneys think.  Does the Idaho Legislature really want to gamble with the Railroad Ranch?

Brett Prettyman works for Trout Unlimited as the Intermountain Communications Director for the Intermountain Region (Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada and Utah). He is based out of Salt Lake City and can be reached at bprettyman@tu.org


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