Friday, September 24, 2010

Motors on the Henry's Fork: About to Become a (Limited) Reality

For some reason I always thought that motorized boats were against the rules on the entire length of the Henry's Fork. I must have heard it somewhere, and it seems like a lot of other folks heard it to, but I'm not sure it was ever really the case. It looks like motors will now be part of the equation on the famed fork, at least in a limited capacity.

Henry's Fork Foundation sent out a recent notice about a public hearing of the Fremont County Board of Commissioners, which is formulating a plan for motorized boats on the Henry's Fork. The current plan calls for the majority of the river to remain boat free with usage limited to the stretch from Fun Farm diversion downstream to the confluence with the South Fork. I can't seem to find the contents of the email they sent me on their website, so I am pasting the full text here with my comments to follow.

 Public Hearing Scheduled October 6 for Fremont County Waterways Ordinance 
The Fremont County Board of Commissioners proposes to adopt an ordinance entitled “Fremont County Waterways Ordinance”’ regulating the use of motors on the rivers and lakes of Fremont County. The public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, October 6, 2010, at 6:00 pm at the Fremont County Annex Building in St. Anthony. Written comments may also be submitted and are due no later than 5:00 pm on Monday, September 27.

To review the ordinance and map showing what sections are open or closed to motorized watercraft, go to the Fremont County website, on the lower right side of the page, click on “Meeting Agendas and Other Upcoming Events”. Then scroll down to where it lists the Public Hearing information, and click on “Fremont County Waterways Ordinance”. A copy of the ordinance is also attached to this email.

Most of the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River would be closed to motorized watercraft, as was thought already to be the case. The river between Mack’s Inn Bridge and the Trestle Bridge below Big Springs would remain open to motors less than 15 hp. The Henry’s Fork between McCrea Bridge and Mack’s Inn Bridge would remain closed to all motorboats. The river between Island Park Dam downstream to the Hwy. 20 Bridge above Ashton Reservoir would be closed to motors. The river from Ashton Dam downstream to the Fun Farm Diversion backwater would also be closed to motors.

The Foundation is concerned that motorboats up to 15 hp would be allowed in the small Fun Farm backwater from the diversion dam upstream to the top of the second island. This is a popular wading area, and the slow current allows river users simply to row their boats upstream a considerable distance. There is no need for a motor to access this small section of river.

The ordinance does not propose any restrictions on motorized watercraft from the Fun Farm Diversion downstream to the Fremont-Madison County line. Although it would be desirable to have no motorboats in this lower section of the river (essentially from St. Anthony downstream) at the very least the Foundation believes that there should be a motor size restriction of no motors larger than 10 hp.

Written comments, due by 5:00 pm Monday, Sept. 27, can be submitted to:

Fremont County Clerk’s Office
151 W. 1st North Street
St. Anthony, ID 83445

FAX to 208.624.7335
Or you can submit comments by email on the Fremont County website “Contact Us” links for the County Commissioners and County Clerk.
You can read the entire ordinance, including viewing the map (last page), here.

Like the foundation, I am concerned about motors in the Fun Farm backwater, which is a portion of the river that has gotten quite popular over the last five years or so. The current is slow and I have waded portions of it and rowed upstream all over it. Its a popular place for drift boats to set up shop and fish the evening caddis emergences and other hatches. It does not need the increased traffic or complexity that will come from small motorized boats. To be honest, I haven't fished there in two years because its generally so crowded already.

I also worry about the motors in the river downstream from the diversion to the confluence. The last thing we need are big jet boats in the Henry's Fork (although the water might be too shallow in many places for a big boat). The big boats already have their run of the South Fork, and they love to motor upstream and have little consideration for the wading fisherman working a pod of rising trout.

For me the Henry's Fork has always been defined in some part by the fact that it is unique. A massive spring creek combined with a tailwater, the quirks of The Ranch, and yes, no motors allowed. I can't help but feel that the river is losing a part of its identity all of the sudden.

There is not much time, so get those written comments in and let the commissioners know how you feel.

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