Thursday, November 8, 2018

IDPR names a new yurt "The Hennessy" to honor non-motorized trails expert Leo Hennessy

Ribbon-cutting occurred today for The Hennessy Yurt, named for Leo Hennessy, cutting the ribbon, who started the
Idaho City Park'n Ski Yurt system for IDPR back in the 1990s and built it into what it is today with help from many volunteers and the Boise National Forest. L-R, Madonna Lengerich, John Wallace, Acting Idaho City District Ranger,
Leo, Keith Hobbs of IDPR, Innis Wright, Linda Moore, and Leslie Tengleson is on the far right, with Forest, their
trusty dog, looking on. Photo courtesy Jennifer Okerlund, IDPR
Hi all,

I'm so glad to see that the Idaho Parks and Recreation Department is naming a new yurt after Leo Hennessy, long-time non-motorized trails coordinator for the agency for 30+ years. They're calling it "The Hennessy" yurt. 

Leo's partner Leslie Tengleson and I have been talking for several months about doing something special in recognition of Leo's many contributions to the improvement of trails and recreation in Idaho. At one point, we were thinking about naming a trail after him. But to have a yurt named after him is PERFECT! 

There was a ribbon-cutting for The Hennessy yurt today. It replaces the Whispering Pines yurt, which was burned by the Pioneer Fire two years ago. As IDPR Operations Administrator Keith Hobbs said, "No other name seemed appropriate, aside from “The Hennessy,” named in honor of the man who brought the Idaho City Backcountry Yurt Program to fruition. This program exists as it does today due to the tireless efforts of one man, Leo Hennessy."

Leo checks out the Owyhee Canyonlands on a backpack trip.
He used to carry Spam for food, but over time, he
improved his backcountry cooking motif. 
"Leo has dedicated his career to the state of Idaho, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation and non-motorized trails enthusiasts statewide. In his three (plus) decades of service, he has been an inspiration to all that it means to manage recreation in Idaho – personalizing every moment and sharing his passion with those lucky enough to work alongside him… or join him on an adventure," Hobbs says.

"Leo is a testament to the magic that occurs when the central focus of your career is sincerely loving what you do and we are all the beneficiaries. Experiences like this (the backcountry yurt system), the 72-mile Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and the latest Ashton-to Tetonia Trail are all projects that Leo worked to bring to fruition. A life’s work … to benefit others and ensure recreational access."

I've worked with Leo on trail projects since the 1980s. We're both U of Montana alums, but didn't know each other in college. Leo was there when we formed the Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association (SWIMBA) in 1992, and he helped with countless trail-maintenance and new trail construction projects in the Boise Foothills over the years. He was active with the nonprofit "Nordic Voice" cross-country ski group that supported the beginning of the Idaho City Park 'n Ski Trails system and the construction of all the yurts built out there from Day 1.

Uh-oh ... Leo rescues a snowshoer buried in
in the snow. 
Back in the day, we had a fabulous working relationship with Boise REI when I was leading SWIMBA. We would line up crew leaders for new trails projects, including Leo, Boise REI would sign up dozens of volunteers, Ridge to Rivers provided the tools and we'd knock out projects in a day or several days. Tim Breuer was the Ridge to Rivers trail coordinator at the time, and he also was a great trail advocate. 

Tom Chelstrom, former Boise REI store manager, recalls that, "We did so many projects together that they all run together. I remember working together on Ridge to Rivers Trails, working alongside his daughter, Jennie, building the first yurts, he was just always there, always happy, having a good time, coaching people and being a cheerleader for all of those projects." 

Leo also was active with the now-defunct Idaho Trails Council back in the 1990s when I was president of that statewide group. He supported the late Roger Williams in his quest to create the Idaho Centennial Trail and make that a Lasting Legacy project for the Idaho Centennial Commission. Leo pushed Forest Service rangers to get engaged in the ICT project, sign the trail, and make sure it was cleared and ready for public use each year. Sadly, his efforts in that regard did not bear fruit with all of the national forests and rangers in Idaho. Some of them didn't cooperate or do anything, and today, that shows in a glaring way. 

That's why people like Leo are so rare among our public agencies. You need great, proactive land managers and recreation managers to get things done. Rangers with the Forest Service and the BLM come and go. Leo was there for the long-haul. He knew he was fortunate to have a job that he loved, and he never took that for granted. He worked together with eager recreation groups like SWIMBA, Nordic Voice and the Idaho Trails Council to leverage public dollars and resources to get things done. Build partnerships. Make it fun. He knew how to do that, and his following grew over time. 

Snowshoe adventure in the Boise National Forest. 
I remember when Leo was researching the possibility of building yurts in the Idaho City Park 'n Ski Trails system. He discovered that Oregon was building new yurts at a very high rate of speed because as soon as they put them in, they were popular and booked for the season. He thought there would be enough rental demand to pay for the yurts with rental revenue, and perhaps build more. Turns out, he was right! We built the yurts with volunteer labor with assistance from IDPR and the Idaho City Ranger District, and it was fun to go stay at a yurt that you had helped build, and tell your friends about it. 

Leo also was very generous with his personal time after his kids were grown. He started leading hiking and snowshoeing trips through the Idaho Outdoors Yahoo Group, and pretty soon, if you went on one of those trips, there might be 25 people or more signed up. Those groups gave rise to the Facebook Meet Up groups and the Idaho Hiking Club. 

He fell for Leslie on a group outing to the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes and the Route of the Hiawatha, and he made many other friends in his outdoor trips on weekends. Brenda Adams is a good friend of Leo's who met him as a frequent volunteer.

"All of the accolades for Leo are well-deserved," Adams says. "Nothing in a yurt is there by accident, the time and thought put into every aspect, from the positioning of each window to the placement of the dustpan, is considered and deliberate. Leo is obsessed with making every yurt visitor’s experience as optimal as possible. This attention to detail has paid off, and we have Leo to thank for these beautiful,comfortable wilderness yurts.

Brenda Adams, left, and Leo at Stargaze Yurt, which has one of the best views of the Sawtooths from the deck. 
"Leo loves the outdoors but he also loves seeing other people enjoy outdoor activities and has been extraordinarily generous in planning and executing shared adventures that are challenging, inspiring and downright fun," she continues. "Anyone who has been on a few of his trips is familiar with the phrase, “It was a ‘Leo trip’” - usually uttered with a groan and a laugh as you recall thrashing through the off-trail underbrush on a “not dangerous, just a little risky “ side trip to some incredible canyon or peak. The man has an encyclopedic knowledge of Idaho terrain and an uncanny ability to navigate through it."

Madonna Lengerich is another long-time friend who's helped Leo on projects for 30+ years. Madonna remembers getting the Idaho Legislature to approve the Park 'n Ski sticker program to pay for the grooming of the parking lots in 1979. Thanks Madonna!

Leo shared a cool mountain bike ride with us that circumnavigates the Silver City basin. 
Just think about the thousands of people who will stay at The Hennessy Yurt in the future, and enjoy some fantastic views of the Boise National Forest amid the Gold Fork xc trail system.

"We will be forever thankful for Leo’s contributions to non-motorized recreation in Idaho," Hobbs  says. "There is no more fitting tribute than to name the Hennessy Yurt in Leo’s honor and officially open it alongside you all today."

Leo plans to retire sometime this year. I hope you get a chance to meet him before he moves on to his private retired life. But I suspect that he'll stay involved in any type of project that improves non-motorized trails in Idaho. And I expect that he will travel the world to fulfill a very lengthy bucket list of hiking trips in spectacular locations that he hasn't had time to visit in his busy working life.

Hats off to you, Leo, my friend, for all you have done to make Idaho a better place for everyone! You deserve a "Take Pride in Idaho" award, and hopefully a private party where we can roast you in fine fashion!

Be sure to visit IDPR's yurt page to reserve a yurt if you haven't done so for this winter. All of them are 2-3 miles from the highway, accessible for xc skiers or snowshoers. Enjoy!
- SS      

No comments: