The Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA)

Castle Peak, SNRA

Castle Peak in the White Cloud
 Mountains. Some would
still like to see an open-pit
moly mine here.

After a decade-long struggle against open-pit mining in the White Cloud Peaks and subdivisions on the floor of the Sawtooth Valley, the 756,000 acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area was created by Congress in 1972. Efforts to save this renowned part of Idaho were championed by Idaho's Senator Frank Church and Governor Cecil Andrus, and then-congressman Orval Hansen, as well as Idaho conservationists and the many citizens who didn't want to see an open pit molybdenum mine on Castle Peak, nor the Sawtooth Valley and Stanley Basin cut up and sold as ranchettes.

The national recreation area is much like a national park, although more uses are allowed, some of which like hunting and limited timber harvest, are not allowed in national parks. The area is managed by a special division of the Sawtooth National Forest.

The area has been renowned for its beauty and recreational assets for a hundred years. The major features are the Sawtooth Wilderness where no motors, logging, buildings, or roads are allowed. It also includes the rugged backcountry of the White Cloud Mountains and part of the Boulder Mountains. Between these two ranges is the easily-accessible and world-renowned Sawtooth Valley. The SNRA also includes part of less known Smoky Mountains and the headwaters of the Big Wood River.

The Sawtooth Mountains. Taken 4 miles NW of Stanley. 
July 2000 © Ralph Maughan


A number of Idaho's major rivers including the Salmon, Payette, Boise and Big Wood Rivers all originate in the SNRA, There are more than 40 peaks that top 10,000 feet in elevation.

The SNRA is one of the few areas in the United States where unsightly subdivisions have actually been condemned, purchased and torn down in order to conserve the scenery.

Of course that was in the 1970s, a time when politics in the Western U.S. had a greener hue

Lake and Patterson Peak in the White Clouds. July 2000
© Ralph Maughan


Slipping backwards
In the last decade funding for the SNRA has not kept up with inflation. The staff has been cut in half and private land owners who were promised payment for their putting a scenic or conservation easement on their private property have begun to grumble and some plan to sub-divide. Idaho's second district congressman, Mike Crapo, got $800,000 federal money in 1998 to begin again the process of acquiring conservation easements. He got another 1.8 million dollars for FY 1999.


Stanley Basin and the Sawtooth Range. Copyright © Ralph Maughan

Wolves began to recolonize the area in 1999 when the Stanley wolf pack formed, although this pack was destroyed by the government after about 3 years. New wolf packs keep forming, the most recent being the Galena Pack in 2004.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sawtooth National Recreation Area/ revised July 23, 2004
text and photos © Ralph Maughan/