Tag Archive for: Idaho

Idaho Capital Sun- Former mining claim added to Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness

The Idaho Capital Sun celebrates the recent addition of the Surprise Lode property to Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

August 26, 2023


Expanding Idaho’s wilderness with lessons from the life of Polly Bemis

August 11, 2023

This week The Wilderness Land Trust completed the transfer of the 38-acre Surprise Lode property, adding it to Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. This project builds off the adjacent Painter Mine property we transferred in 2017.

Earlier this summer we visited the Surprise Lode property with our USFS partners in preparation for its transfer and addition to the wilderness. At the end of the visit, as we were headed back downriver, our jet boat captain handed me a photo book sealed in a ziplock bag. Inside were historic photos, many showing the inhabitants of the old homesteads and mines we’d passed along the river. The captain pointed to a photo of a Chinese woman beside a horse and said “That’s Polly, you’d like her. She was a neat lady and lived an amazing life out here”. Later, once I’d returned home to Montana, I found her story, along with the story of many others who made this incredible wilderness landscape their home.

The Salmon River Canyon has been inhabited for almost 10,000 years, first by the Old Cordilleran people in the late Pleistocene, then by their descendants the Nez Perce and Mountain Shoshone tribes. The river and surrounding wilderness remain an important cultural and spiritual homeland for the tribes. The first white men to travel the Salmon River were trappers and hunters in the 1830s, followed by gold miners in the 1860s. Travel by land through the Salmon River Canyon, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon, was very difficult. So miners would build and launch wooden scows upriver in the town of Salmon, then once they’d reached their downstream destination, disassemble their boats to build cabins. This gave this river its nickname as the “river of no return”.

Buckskin Bill

As the gold rush boomed then busted, the Salmon River was home to some iconic characters. Some were expected like Buckskin Bill, known as the ‘last of the mountain men’ who made his home just downriver from the Surprise Lode property in the 1930s and built a stone gun tower, which still stands, above his cabin to “defend it” from the USFS seeking to protect the area.

Others, like Polly Bemis, were less expected. Standing at only 4’5”, Polly was born in northern China in 1853, where she was sold into slavery and brought to San Francisco, then Warren, Idaho where, at the age of 19, she was sold to a saloon owner. It’s unclear how Polly gained her freedom, but by the 1880 census she was listed as living with her friend Charlie Bemis, who had looked out for her since her arrival in Warren. Once free, Polly was financially independent, taking in laundry and building and running her own boarding house. Charlie and Polly later married, and in 1894 they moved to a remote homestead on the Salmon River where they staked a mining claim.

For much of her life, Polly’s story was written by others— she was enslaved, taken from her home, and almost certainly endured the intense discrimination that Chinese Americans faced on the frontier. Even decades after her freedom, a rumor that she had been won in a poker game still persisted, despite her insistence it wasn’t true. But on the banks of the Salmon, she was able to write her own story. Along with Charlie, she made her home, keeping a garden and caring for a number of animals including horses and a cougar. She was known and admired by homesteaders and miners throughout the area for her nursing skills, as an expert angler, and for her toughness, friendliness, wit, and sense of humor. She was known for who she was- for her kindness, skills, and talents- not as property or a trite stereotype.

In 1922 their cabin burnt down and a few months later Charlie died, likely of tuberculosis. After rebuilding her cabin with the help of her neighbors, Polly went on living by herself in the rugged wilderness until her death in 1933 at the age of 80. Since then Polly has become something of an icon, with a book Thousand Pieces of Gold based on her life, her restored cabin on the National Register of Historic Places, and her induction into the Idaho Hall of Fame.

Polly’s story struck me, both as a welcome diversion from the typical mountain man archetype, as well as a portrait of the freedom and sense of self that she, and many after her, found in the wilderness. For so many of us, our relationship with wilderness is shaped by the freedom we feel in it, the community that it connects us to, and the self-discovery that comes from solitude and hard days on its trails. Polly’s story reminds us that wilderness is for everyone, not just those you’d expect to find in it. And it reminds us how important it is to protect wilderness so that future generations have the opportunity to find their way in the world through it, just as she did.

A few miles upriver from where Polly is buried, we’re proud to be adding 38 acres to the wilderness she loved.

– Margosia Jadkowski, Director of Marketing & Communications

Come along on a virtual site visit in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness

June 30, 2023- Field season is in full swing for our Lands Staff as they visit our project sites in wilderness areas across the west. As we work to acquire or transfer properties our staff conduct several site visits to assess property values, the wilderness character of the property, whether any restoration work is necessary, and to coordinate with landowners and agency partners.

Join us on a virtual site visit to the Surprise Lode property in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness with this 4-minute video and learn more about the project!


The Main Salmon River winds its way below the Trust’s newly acquired property in the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness Photo credit: Bradford Knipe

More Protection in the Heart of Idaho

Sept. 17, 2021 – Located in the midst of a 3.3 million-acre roadless area, the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness, combined with the adjacent Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, is the largest contiguous wilderness area in the lower 48 states.

The Main Salmon River winds its way below the Trust’s newly acquired property in the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness Photo credit: Bradford Knipe

The Main Salmon River winds its way below the Trust’s newly acquired property in the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness. Photo credit: Bradford Knipe

Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, grey wolves, lynx, black bears and wolverines call this land home. The Middle Fork and Main Salmon Rivers slice through the designation, providing habitat and spawning grounds for native westslope cutthroat trout, endangered sockeye and chinook salmon, and steelhead trout. The rivers and tributaries of this wilderness area are critically important for the long-term survival of these species.

This week we purchased another property in the heart of the wilderness. The 38-acre Surprise Lode property is directly adjacent our previous Painter Mine property, a parcel the Trust acquired in 2014 and transferred to the Payette National Forest in 2017. The Trust has also completed projects in the Hell’s Canyon, Little Jacks Creek and North Fork Owyhee Wilderness.

Protecting this beautiful land and its varied habitat is what we live for, and we are excited to continue filling in the map in Idaho’s fabled Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness. Learn more about our process, and thank you for your generous support of our work.

The Things We Value

Historic cabin in the Frank Church River Of No Return Wilderness, Idaho

August 7, 2020 – It was late afternoon when our staff emerged from Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness after spending the day visiting a project site. It was hot and a thunderstorm was developing overhead. On this day our team included Brad Borst, president, and Kelly Conde, lands specialist, The Wilderness Land Trust, and five U.S. Forest Service (USFS) staff from the Payette National Forest.

They drove three hours along dusty backroads earlier in the day followed by a hike in to the property. Their goal was to get a look at the remnants of several historic cabins and examine three mine adits to determine if any of them required cleanup before the property is transferred to the surrounding wilderness. Luckily, the USFS thought the buildings could remain, and the adits represented nothing more than “a whole lot of looking, and not much finding” by long ago miners, according to an agency representative.

Back at the trailhead our team dusted themselves off before settling down to review their field notes. It’s very satisfying to check off one of the numerous steps we must follow to remove another inholding from the wilderness. In fact, Kelly and Brad enjoyed discussing the next steps for this project so much they didn’t notice the long drive back to civilization.

Our enthusiasm shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows the Trust’s work. The values we embrace as an organization — a passion for wild places, a desire to protect it for future generations, a joyful determination to get the job done and respect everyone involved — runs deep within our ranks. It also ensures our success, as evidenced by more than 52,000 acres permanently protected to date.

Thank you for your generous investment in our work. We’ll keep you posted on how this project turns out, and look forward to sharing more updates from the field this summer.


Kelly Conde, Sawtooth Wilderness

The Trust Welcomes a New Team Member


April 3, 2020 – Please help us welcome Kelly Conde to The Wilderness Land Trust family as our new lands specialist. Kelly is an Idaho native who grew up exploring the many wilderness areas in her state. Her family vacations always required a tent and hiking boots as they backpacked the Sawtooth Wilderness, rafted the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and flew into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness on a mail plane. Kelly says these experiences helped her understand the necessity of wild places “where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” They also led her to a career in conservation that started with the Idaho-based Sawtooth Society followed by the Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust where she worked as their conservation manager.

Kelly is based in Pocatello, Idaho, and she will oversee our projects located throughout the Northwest, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

Thank you for your continued investment in our work, especially during this challenging time. We are grateful for the ability to continue our mission and vision to keep the promise of wilderness alive for you and future generations.


Scotchman Peaks Wilderness vista

Inheriting a Livable Planet

Oct. 11, 2019 — 50,933 acres permanently protected, 481 parcels added into public ownership, and 16 wilderness areas completed. Since our founding in 1992, you, our board of directors and staff have made those numbers possible.

Board members took some time to hike the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness area.

Board members took some time to hike the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness are

We just returned from our fall board meeting in Sandpoint, Idaho where we spent the better part of a weekend reviewing the complex work that goes into buying and transferring private land to public ownership.

Hours of research, letters, phone calls, travel, meetings, a site visit, environmental assessment, negotiation, title work, contract preparation and closing documents are just a hint of the work we do to remove a threat to the wild places you love.

We hope you are as energized as we are to continue this work so that future generations inherit a livable planet with healthy wilderness areas that support a diversity of plant and animal life.

Please help expand our team of dedicated supporters by sharing this email and encouraging your fellow wilderness advocates to sign up for our news updates.