May 27, 2004 11:00 pm
Cody Roy and Tyrell Grove remove fencing. ().
Cody Roy and Tyrell Grove remove fencing. ().

By Dick Mason

Staff Writer

A piece of Hells Canyon looks a little more like heaven today thanks to an industrious group of 11 Union County Boy Scouts.

The scouts, members of La Grande Troop 514, recently removed a mile-long barbed wire fence in Hells Canyon.

"This is the hardest working group I've ever participated with. Nobody loafed; everybody gave their full energy,'' said Eric Valentine of La Grande, a volunteer for Troop 514.

The fence was in an area where there had been livestock grazing. However, there is no need for the fence because nobody grazes livestock in the area. Nobody now has a grazing permit for the area.

The one-mile fence that was removed was believed to be 40 to 50 years old.

"It was unsightly,'' said Kurt Wiedemann of La Grande, one of the adult volunteers who helped the Boy Scouts.

Wiedemann, district ranger for the

La Grande Ranger District, added that the fence could serve as an obstacle for wildlife such as deer and elk.

In a sense the fence was five miles long because it had five barbed strands that ran its length. Cutting it and rolling it up was especially difficult.

"Cutting the fence wire was tricky because it would jump back at you since there was so much tension,'' said Boy Scout Nick West of Imbler.

Once the wire was cut it would be rolled up every 300 feet. Rolling the barbed wire was also a challenge.

"Sometimes the wire would spring off the roll,'' said Boy Scout Sean Wiedemann.

The U.S. Forestry Service later picked up the barbed wire.

Rattlesnakes are abundant in the Hells Canyon area but fortunately there were no encounters during the project. Caution served the scouts well.

"We were constantly looking for rattlesnakes,'' Nick West said.

The group did see at least one rattlesnake while hiking back at the end of the project.

The fence was taken down at Pittsburgh Landing on the Idaho side of the Snake River. Pittsburgh Landing is about 60 miles southwest of Lewiston, Idaho.

The Forest Service rewarded the Boy Scouts for their work with a jet boat trip to Kirkwood Ranch about six miles upstream from Pittsburgh Landing.

Kirkwood Ranch is no longer operating but an old bunkhouse there has been converted into a museum. The museum is filled with dozens of old farm implements, Indian artifacts, photos of what life was like in the 1800s and more.

"There were amazing old photos and artifacts,'' said Russ West, Troop 514's scoutmaster.

The museum had remnants of an era many decades ago when Hells Canyon was much more developed than it is today. People raised sheep, hay, cattle, fruit trees and other products in a remote area to support themselves.

"They were very self sufficient,'' Valentine said. "What they did says a lot about the ingenuity and discipline of the human spirit.''

Kirkwood Ranch began operating in the 1880s. It has been shut down for about three decades. Its owners included Len Jordan, who once served as Idaho's governor.

Pittsburgh Landing was once a Nez Perce Indian wintering ground. In the 1930s about 60 people lived there.

Development in Hells Canyon has been restricted since it became a National Recreation Area.

West, a Union County's Circuit Court judge, said the trip was a rewarding experience not only because of the project but for the opportunity to look back into a bygone era.

"It was a great trip. It is a whole other world. It is rich in history and geology,'' West said. "This time of year it is incredibly beautiful.''

The adult volunteers who accompanied the scouts in addition to West, Valentine and Wiedemann included Bob Mills, Jeff Henry, Sandy Henry, Diane Partridge, Steve Bloyed and Dave Devillier.

In addition to Nick West and Sean Wiedemann, the Troop 514 Boy Scouts who went on the trip included Tyrel Grove, Chris Grove, Morgan Bloyed, John Devillier, Robert Partridge, Mitch Henry, Richard Mills, Max Nicholson and Cody Roy.