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!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Try these winter hikes close to home in Boise

Wind River Pack Bridge, Salmon River Country

Bruneau Dunes!

ParkCenter Greenbelt Loop (click to enlarge)

Bown Crossing Loop (click to enlarge)
Hi all,

A friend of mine, Kirk Hall, gave a presentation Wednesday night at REI about some nice winter hiking destinations close to home. Kirk's theme was "Explore Your Neighborhood, Explore Your Community, Explore the World."

I thought I'd share his winter hiking ideas as my outdoor tip of the week. Some people are not skiers or snowshoers, and those of you who fit into this category are probably getting a bit of cabin fever!

1. Explore some walks in your neighborhood. Have you found some nice loop walks that you can do just by walking out your front door?

Two hikes that Kirk recommended are in Southeast Boise because that's where he lives.
  • One route starts and finishes in Bown Crossing, a very attractive place in SE Boise to visit for lunch or dinner. Bown Crossing happens to be located next to the Bethine Church Nature Trail along the Boise River. Kirk's route goes from Bown Crossing to the nature trail. Go west on the nature trail to a Greenbelt spur that takes you to ParkCenter Blvd. Cross ParkCenter at Gossamer Lane, and walk the sidewalks of Monterey and Portside to Victory Lane. Go right and walk several blocks to Law. Go left on Law, and left on Boise Avenue, and walk back to Bown Crossing. This route is about 2 miles or approximately 1 hour or less, depending on how fast you walk. See the map above.

  • ParkCenter - Greenbelt Loop. This route starts and finishes by Municipal Park or the Idaho Fish and Game Nature Center, take your pick. Go west on the Greenbelt to Warm Springs Golf Course, turn right at the fork, and take the big orange pedestrian bridge across to the ParkCenter area. Cross ParkCenter Blvd. by the traffic light at Mallard, walk around the ParkCenter Pond to Red Robin, cross ParkCenter, and then cross the West ParkCenter Bridge to return to the start. This route is about 1.75 miles in length or less than an hour. See the map above.
2. Try some hikes close to home. Kirk recommended exploring the new Marianne Williams Park, also near Bown Crossing. This is a super-cool new park that will be open officially later this year. It's almost as large as Julia Davis Park. It has paved and dirt pathways that wind next to a series of wetlands and the Boise River. Be sure to stay out of the way of construction activities.

Another hike that Kirk mentioned in this category was the Oregon Trail by Surprise Valley or the Oregon Trail by Bonneville Point, accessed from the Black's Creek I-84 Freeway exit. Both of these routes are described in detail in my guidebook, Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking and Running Routes Close to Home.

A third hike that Kirk discussed is Daniels Creek, a trail that winds up a draw just past the turnoff to Dry Creek on Bogus Basin Road. See the map above.

3. Try some hikes within an hour's drive of Boise.
  • Celebration Park. I've written about this before, and it's in Boise Trail Guide. Great winter, spring and fall destination. Excellent for families and kids because of rock petroglyphs viewable from the parking lot.
  • Bruneau Dunes State Park. Fun destination for kids and families. The main dunes are 470 feet tall ... plenty high to climb around on for all ages and abilities.
  • Reynolds Creek Loop near Walter's Ferry, south of Nampa. This hike is featured in the Boise Trail Guide. Great winter, spring and fall destination.
  • Snake River Petroglyph Tour. This is a 12-mile hike on the south side of the Snake River starting from Swan Falls and hiking down to Wees Bar. It's also featured in the Boise Trail Guide.
4. Try some hikes a little farther out of town. One that Kirk suggested is Rapid River Trail, a very cool trail that can be accessed easily from U.S. 95 just south of Riggins. It's an out-and-back hike. Go to the fish hatchery and pick up the trail in that area and hike upstream as long as you want! The trail gets much steeper after it crosses the river 3+ miles up the trail.

Another dandy in the Riggins area is the Wind River Trail heading into the Gospel Hump Wilderness. Access is from the Wind River Pack Bridge, about 25 miles up the Salmon River Road from Riggins. I've skied Brundage on one day, and then gone for this hike the day after. This hike is especially nice in April when the grass is beginning to green up a low elevations.

Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Try visiting Lick Cr. yurt in McCall to ski/ride fabulous big mountain wonderland in Idaho

Marianne Nelson, our trip leader

Laura floats through the sugar-like powder snow

Payette Powder Guides yurts at Lick Creek Summit

Eric Young and Eric Schneider take us and our gear to Lick Creek with their sleds

Typical powder field scene ... quite nice!
Hi all,

I felt like a lucky guy last weekend. It was one of those rare times when the combination of impeccable weather, luscious powder, great people, smooth logistics and fine backcountry accommodations all blended together into an awesome three-day trip near McCall, Idaho.

Apr├Ęs ski, sitting in the afternoon sunshine on the wooden deck of a fine yurt provided by Payette Powder Guides, and sipping on a beer, I felt my cheeks radiating the feeling of good times all around.

Three days previous, I was doing logistical backflips getting my kids situated at my moms for the weekend, finding a baby sitter for our new puppy, and getting all of my business affairs squared away so I could leave town. Now I can say it was all well-worth the hassle.

We had a nice party of 7 for the trip. My friend Marianne Nelson, with whom I backcountry ski and mountain bike with a fair bit, was our trip leader. Her son, Tim, a 20-something hard-bodied ski-flier, came along with us. A recent hire at Hewlett Packard, Tim had met Eric Schneider, an HP engineer who happens to be an avid backcountry skier and an experienced hand with the whole snowmobile-supported backcountry skiing routine. Eric has a partner in crime, another HP engineer named Eric Young, who has two snowmobiles and not only rips it up on skis, but also climbs with a splitboard and snowboards for variety.

So we had a great crew, and with the participation of the two Erics, we avoided paying $160/person for a snowcat or snowmobile ride 11 miles from McCall to Lick Creek summit. Instead, we loaded our packs and food into snowmobile sleds, and rode on the snowmobiles (well, three of us got towed) up the hill. And paid the Erics gas money. Lucky!

It took us less than an hour to reach Lick Creek Summit. Once on top, the scene is truly magnificent. Big mountain peaks surround the summit area, and you can see beautiful ski slopes for miles in every direction. So then it's a question of hummm, where to go first?

The Erics took us over to Hum Lake the first afternoon. We skinned up to the Hum Lake saddle, and then to the peak above. From the bottom, the climb involved 1,800 vertical feet of zig-zagging up the mountain in full sun. We all had to strip down to minimum layers to avoid sweating buckets. Just a gorgeous afternoon. The southwest slope skied beautifully, being near 8,000 feet, the snow was plenty cold and nice and fluffy. Wendy and I did two runs there.

Part of the group skied into Hum Lake on a northeast slope, and they said it was like skiing super-light sugar.

The snow was fantastic everywhere in all three days of our trip. Marianne Nelson was whooping it up while carving perfect signatures in the snow, and her cheeks were positively glowing in the yurt in the evenings. "I thought it was the best backcountry ski trip ever," she says. "It was my Canada."

Marianne hasn't been backcountry skiing in Canada yet, but I have, and I would say that the skiing terrain around the Lick Creek area is positively world-class. If you skied with Payette Powder Guides or other people who know the area well, they could take you out for a week and never cross your tracks twice.

PPG has two yurts at the summit -- a primary yurt with all of the kitchen and cooking stuff in it, plus enough bunks to sleep 6 or more. The second yurt is a sleeping yurt, also capable of sleeping at least 6. PPG says groups of 10-12 are probably as large as you want to get. So we had plenty of extra elbow room with a smaller group of 7. The cost to stay in the yurts is $40/person/night, 6-person minimum on weekends. Very reasonable! Here are PPG's prices for guide service and snowmobile support, etc.
The yurt set up at Lick Creek is pretty similar to all the yurts in SW Idaho (meaning deluxe), but PPG also has a first-class sauna. And that's a bonus! It really makes it nice to do a sauna after dinner or after the ski day and clean out the pores. You don't need a suit, but remember to bring a towel! I had to use a long-sleeved T-shirt. Guys will be guys.

Plus ... PPG has an outside propane BBQ grill. We brought salmon fillets for one night, and flank steak (marinated for 4 days ... thanks Marianne!), which were cooked to perfection by Eric Young.

To set expectations appropriately, skiing in the Payette National Forest around Lick Creek seems like you're in the wilderness, similar to being in the Sawtooths. But the area is managed as a multiple use area -- that's why we're able to snowmobile into the yurt. The country to the north of Lick Creek Road is open to backcountry snowmobiling, so you may hear sleds out there high-marking in the high peaks while you're skiing. There are a bunch of very-skilled riders from McCall. Once you're away from the road, however, and skiing behind the yurt, you can't hear a thing.

If skiing/riding in the Lick Creek area sounds appealing, PPG has a couple openings on a guided trip coming right up over President's Day weekend in the Feb. 17-20 time frame, and they've got some spots available on a guided trip March 16-18, and there's a private yurt rental opportunity on March 24-25.

Check with PPG for details. You can reach co-owners Marty Rood at 208-634-3189 or Chuck Rea at 208-634-4263.

I took an Avalanche Level 1 class from Marty and Chuck a number of years ago, plus I worked with them at Tamarack Resort. They're both extremely competent backcountry skiers and avalanche safety experts, but most of all, they know how to find great snow and big fun!

- SS

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Discover several sweet walking paths along the Eagle Greenbelt and Boise River

New pedestrian bridge provides access to the south side of the river

Red lines indicate trails in the vicinity (click to enlarge)

Here's our puppy "Huck" crossing the ped bridge
Typical scene on south side of the river

Ducks and geese like the ponds


Typical habitat in the area

Nice pathways - thanks Eagle!

Huck surveys the scene

North Channel of the Boise River
Hi all,

We've got a new puppy, a German shorthair-English pointer mix. He's pretty little -- only 9 weeks now -- so I've been taking him on relatively short walks, and introducing him to nature and the big world out there.

I like to walk him on dirt or gravel paths, so the other day, I thought I'd take him out to the Eagle Greenbelt section that's best accessed from Merrill Park in Eagle River or behind the Bardennay Restaurant in Eagle.

It's a great place for a low-key walk with or without dogs. A new pedestrian bridge that spans the North Channel of the Boise River opens up access to a number of pathways on the south side of the channel. There's a gravel neighborhood connector trail that runs next to a future development called Hidden Island, and farther upstream, the gravel path makes a nifty loop over to another pedestrian bridge and neighborhood connector trail.

On the north side of the channel, the dirt paths around Merrill Park provide a short loop. For longer trips, you can walk the Eagle Greenbelt east along the north side of the channel to Riverside Park/Glenwood Bridge, which is 4.6 miles or about two hours walking time. That trip is detailed in my guidebook Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home.

Or, you can do a short loop from Merrill Park by crossing the pedestrian bridge, go west to the Eagle Road bridge, cross the highway bridge to the other side of the river, and then walk the path along the north side of the channel east back to Merrill Park. That loop is 1.4 miles.

With the trail map shown above, you'll see the options in this little-known neck of the woods. You'll see quail, kingfishers, ducks and geese, maybe a few deer or fox and coyote, and possibly a bald eagle or red-tailed hawk. There certainly must be some owls hiding out in the cottonwoods.

To get there from Boise, take State Street/Idaho 44 west to the traffic light west of the concrete plant at the Idaho 55 junction. Turn left on Riverside, and then take an immediate right by the Park & Ride to enter the Eagle River business park. Go west about a half mile, and you'll see Merrill Park on the left where E. Shore Drive goes splits off to the left from Riverside.

Have nice walk!