Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tom "Chel" Chelstrom grew many recreation projects with REI magic dust and initiative

Chel at the Boulder Mountain Tour

REI contributed $10,000 to the Harrison Hollow open space campaign

REI was a partner in the Bogus Basin Nordic solar lighting project

REI backs Snowschool, outdoor education for elementary school kids

Seaman's Gulch Trail, an REI service project that was completed in 1 day
How's my hair look? No, this is a REI service project in the Owyhees

Building the Deer Point Trail

Boise REI contributed to the purchase of lower Hulls Gulch in 1993

The Friends of the Payette campaign was supported by REI Boise
Hi all,

I went to a wonderful retirement party for Tom "Chel" Chelstrom, longtime manager of the Boise REI store, last night at the Stonehouse next to the Ram. A big crowd, a veritable who's who from the greater Boise outdoor scene, attended.

We were all there because no matter if you're a dedicated REI shopper or not, if you've been involved in trying to enhance the recreation environment and infrastructure in Southwest Idaho, you've been involved in an REI service project or REI grant project over the years. In his retirement speech, Chel listed a litany of projects over the last 19 years that really inspired my soul. I just flat out forgot about some of them, or never even knew about them. Taken as a whole, it's one impressive list.

Some things Chel did as an individual -- like working with Steve Sweet to identify every diversion structure on the Boise River between Boise and Parma, map them and find a safe way around them. By the time they were done, Chel and Sweet had mapped the entire Boise River reach for canoeists, kayakers and farmers.

In other instances, Chel and REI community relations folks spread the REI magic dust in many directions over the years, contributing to causes, financing projects, assisting nonprofit groups, being an important partner in many collaborative projects, and much more.

Here's a partial list:
  • Contributed financially to the Friends of the Payette Campaign, circa 1989, which led to state legislation and state river plans that banned the construction of any further hydroelectric projects on the South Fork, North Fork and main Payette Rivers.
  • Contributed financially to efforts in 1993 to purchase Hulls Gulch.
  • Boise River Trails - a collaboration on the future management of the Boise River. Part of the vision was to create a water trail and recreation pathway along the river corridor from Lucky Peak to Parma. Now the Ada and Canyon county commissioners and the mayors of seven cities have thrown their support behind that vision. Ditto for the Snake River - a 206-mile plan for a water and land trail from Three Island State Park in Glenns Ferry to Farewell Bend, Ore., has been completed. Chel played a big part in both.
  • REI-SWIMBA partnership projects - I was the founding SWIMBA president in 1992, and I clearly remember how cool it was long before the days of the Internet to be able to recruit volunteers for trail projects through REI. People would sign up to volunteer at the REI store, SWIMBA would provide crew leaders along with Ridge to Rivers people, and we'd divide into 10 groups of 10 people or more and build a ton of trail in no time at all. The first project was to build Trail #1, which runs from the 8th Street motorcycle parking lot over to Corrals and Bob's Trail. After that successful project, there were more SWIMBA-REI partnership projects that led to the construction of Sidewinder Trail, Shane's Trail, Redtail Trail, Seaman's Gulch Trail, Miller Gulch Trailhead and more.
  • As a Minnesota native, Chel is very fond of Nordic skiing. Soon after he moved to Boise in 1993, REI was quickly involved in brushing out the Nordic trails at Bogus Basin. Later, REI assisted with projects to build the Frontier Point Lodge and install solar lighting on the Nordic trails at Bogus.
  • REI contributed financially to the Boise Foothills Open Space Campaign.
  • REI, the Winter Wildlands Alliance and Bogus collaborated to create Snowschool, a recreation and outdoor education program for elementary school kids. REI contributed $5,000 for a fleet of snowshoes, and since the program started, more than 8,500 kids have participated in Snowschool. "You haven't lived until you've seen 50 kids doing the hokey-pokey on snowshoes," Chel says. "It's so priceless. It should be a Visa commercial."
  • REI has sponsored many service projects and Chel and his wife, Sue, have personally been involved in many volunteer projects with the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation to build the yurts in the Idaho City Park 'n Ski program. Now there are six yurts in the system. Chel remembers me talking about the need for yurts in that area at a Nordic Voice meeting in the early 1990s, and Leo Hennessy of IDPR took that ball and ran with it!
  • In the summer, REI and IDPR have co-sponsored many volunteer work days on the summer trail system in the Idaho City Park 'n Ski Area.
  • REI and Chel personally participated in the collaborative project between backcountry skiers and snowmobile users to expand the parking lot at Mores Creek Summit and create a zoning map with separate-use areas for backcountry skiers and snowmobile riders to follow.
  • REI contributed a $20,000 "Great Places" grant to Boise Parks & Recreation to control erosion and rehab the front side of the ever-popular Camelsback Park.
  • REI collaborated with the Idaho Conservation League and the Wilderness Society to create an education brochure about the Owyhee Canyonlands, an effort that was a precursor to the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness.
  • REI supports Boise Bicycle Project activities, including the purchase of the BBP building.
  • REI contributed $10,000 to the Harrison Hollow open space campaign, led by the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley.
Whew! Those are a lot of heavyweight projects that have enhanced and reshaped the outdoor scene in SW Idaho forever. Way to go Chel and REI.

Now the moral of this story is that participating in REI service projects is a must-do activity for any active outdoorsy person in our community. It's fun, it's rewarding and you'll meet new people and friends.

Listening to Chel's list was like a trip down memory lane for me, thinking of all of those REI-IDPR projects and REI-SWIMBA projects that we did, and how the trail systems have bloomed every since. I remember putting the skin on the Elkhorn yurt with Chel, and his wife, Sue, and Leo Hennessy. I had the privilege of doing a little canoeing and biking with Chel and Sue in North Idaho as well. I'll never forget how much ribbing he gave me for using plastic paddles when we were canoeing the lower Selway. To Chel, a canoe paddle has to be made out of wood. It's all about the aesthetic. I'd already broken a bunch of those :)

Chel is a really serious outdoors person. I mean he takes it seriously because his customers take it seriously. He's passionate about it on a personal and professional level. He also understands outdoor conservation, and he understands that it takes money to build projects. I sure appreciate that some of that magic dust fell on groups that I've led or been a part of.

Chel is moving on, but Dean Meer, who has been managing the REI Eugene store for the last 5 years, will be taking over as store manager in Boise. And Sylvia Cooper, REI community relations coordinator, is still here, and she's already got a bunch of projects coming up soon. Here's how you can get involved:
  • REI is supporting Ridge to Rivers for a seedling planting project on Monday, March 5, at 4 p.m. They need 30 volunteers, 10 at 3 different locations. Sign up here.
  • REI is supporting Harrison Hollow volunteer day on Saturday, April 7. Sign up here.
  • REI will be supporting Ridge to Rivers on National Trails Day to relocate the Freestone Trail. Watch for more details at on the Ridge to Rivers site.
I know you'll enjoy your retirement Chel, you've earned it. In my book, you're an Idaho hero!

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