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Bronco blue turf, Idaho potatoes could help boost Idaho tourism

Commerce Director Jeff Sayer with his wife, Laurel, on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

By Steve Stuebner

Jeff Sayer, Director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, had a life-changing experience on a Middle Fork Salmon River trip, and he said that helps him understand the intrinsic value of outfitted trips in a speech to the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association at the annual meeting.

The Middle Fork trip was a U.S. Forest Service trip that involved several Idaho outfitters and guides, Sayer said. He rode with Dirk Gibson, owner of Adventure Guides, a Middle Fork outfitter, and Gibson proceeded to grill him about his life and priorities as they floated down the beautiful canyon.

“It was a time when I was ready to change and start something different,” Sayer said. “That trip literally changed my life.”

As director of Commerce, an agency that oversees the $3.4 billion travel and tourism industry in the state, Sayer said he hopes to help Idaho get more national recognition for its travel and tourism assets. “Idaho has so much to offer, but it seems that we’re just scratching the surface,” he said. “There’s a lot of good things happening in Idaho. We’ve got a great story to tell.”

The Boise State Broncos and the blue turf are a nationally recognized icon that Idaho tourism could benefit from, Sayer said.

Two things that get a lot of national recognition are the Boise State Broncos’ blue AstroTurf and Idaho potatoes, Sayer said. “Those are two things that I’d like to piggy-back on to give us more recognition,” he said.

Technology is changing rapidly in American society, he noted, and it behooves tourism officials, as well as outfitters, to stay on top of those trends to capture more customers. Smart phones are one area that’s seeing big growth. Web sites should be retooled to ensure that they’re friendly for smart phone users, he said. He mentioned a web platform called Responsive Design that readily adapts to the devices using the web site.

“The latest  information I have is that one-half of all travel trips will be booked with smart phones in the near future,” he said. “This is one change we should be ready for.”

In a vacation in the Black Hills, Sayer and his wife, used their smart phones to access a guided tour of the area on their smart phones. They clicked on a QR code, and “the whole Black Hills experience was opened up to us on our phones,” he said. A narrator explained the sights and sounds of the area, greatly enhancing the drive.

IOGA Executive Director John May with Director Sayer at the IOGA annual meeting.

Another idea Sayer shared was about marketing the activities in Idaho that are special, and not necessarily just  the Idaho brand. For example, web sites could focus on the activity, such as hunting, whitewater rafting or recreation. “Why not choose the activity and make that the destination?” he said.

Along those lines, Idaho Outfitters and Guides have been working on creating a brand and web site called “Raft Idaho.” More on that topic to come.

“You guys represent the best of what Idaho’s backcountry has to offer,” Sayer said. “We’ve got to get creative and work on this together. Why not call Idaho “America’s Backcountry?” I’m excited to work with your new director, John May, on lots of these new ideas.”

Doug Tims receives IOGA Lifetime Membership Award

Doug Tims at Campbell’s Ferry (Courtesy Steve Coyle photography)

For decades, IOGA has been blessed to have Doug Tims as an active member and leader. He was elected to the IOGA board of directors soon after becoming a licensed outfitter on the Middle Fork of the Salmon in the late 1980s. He served as both board vice president and president of the IOGA.

Tims has a knack for telling colorful stories with his telltale Mississippi accent. “His oral and written communication skills are exemplary and have been constantly on display on behalf of the industry that is very diverse,” noted Grant Simonds as he presented the award to his longtime friend and associate.

Here’s Doug with IOGA board members (L to R) Jim Thrash, Gov. Cecil Andrus, Barb Opdahl, Harlan Opdahl, Steve Jones and Grant Simonds

Tims’ involvement and leadership with both IOGA and America Outdoors Association enhanced the profile and standing of Idaho outfitters and guides, bringing their practices and standards into the national spotlight, Simonds said.

Although Tims’ recently published book, “Merciless Eden,” written with his wife, Phyllis, is not really a book about outfitting per se, he makes many references to the outfitting industry, presenting both the joys and challenges inherent in the profession. The history and politics of outfitting is a passion. And now he gets to live at Campbell’s Ferry, on the banks of the Salmon River.

“Doug has honored our industry with decades of passion and support for our profession. As one colleague recently remarked, “Doug put IOGA and outfitters ahead of his own agenda. His word is his bond.” Congratulations, Doug, on your outfitting career, one that is truly worthy of IOGA Honorary Lifetime membership,” Simonds said to loud applause at the IOGA annual meeting.

Doug with Les Bechdel, middle, and Steve Zettel

“I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” Tims said. “Forty years ago, I went on a trip in Hells Canyon with Curtis Chang (OARS), and then we did a Lower Salmon trip and a Middle Fork trip in 1980. By then, I was hooked, and I fell in love with Idaho.”

Tims dropped his insurance business, bought an ownership interest in Maravia, a raft and inflatables manufacturing company, and bought a Middle Fork of the Salmon, and later a Selway River outfitting business. He was infatuated with rivers.

Doug believed in show-me trips on Idaho rivers to discuss recreation and management issues … L-R, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, Idaho Congressman Larry LaRocco, Doug and Congressman George Miller of California.

After meeting a few outfitters, Tims wanted to get involved with IOGA, he recalls. “This old Mississippi boy felt really lucky to be associated with this great group of people. I just love to hang out with you guys!” Tims says. “I wasn’t born here, but I was smart enough to move up here to Idaho.”

In his own outfitting business, Tims was committed to providing his clientele with the history, geography, flora and fauna, and culture of the surrounding lands, thereby exemplifying the value added and responsible, shared use themes of outfitting and guiding that he championed, Simonds said. 

Doug and Phillis on the Selway River

Merciless Eden” is full of historical tales about Campbell’s Ferry, Idaho’s early mining history, Salmon River pioneers, wilderness, and much more. Living in a remote homestead in the middle of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness can be both “beautiful and brutal,” Tims says.

“Sometimes I hear voices of those pioneers when I’m out working on building fence,” he says, noting that he has much respect for the people who tried to eke out a living in such a remote and unforgiving area.

Tims also touches on the history of the Central Idaho Wilderness Act in the book, the law that created “the Frank,” and he describes how former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, who was then Secretary of Interior, convinced President Carter to float the Middle Fork of the Salmon River with longtime Idaho outfitter Norm Guth. But the day Carter was available to start the Middle Fork trip was one day off from Guth’s assigned launch date. “Can you imagine having to change your launch date by one day today,” he notes, to chuckles in the crowd. “You’d be dead in the water.”

But through a series of well-placed phone calls, Forest Service officials made an exception for President Carter, and the rest, they say, is history. The late Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, led the efforts to create the River of No Return Wilderness, the largest forest wilderness in the lower 48.

Doug and Phyllis at Campbell’s Ferry

The next time you’re on the Salmon River, go visit Tims at Campbell’s Ferry. There’s a convenient eddy next to the pack bridge leading to the old homestead. It’s a beautiful place, and Doug and Phyllis can tell you all about it.

“Merciless Eden”, which retails for $19.95, is available from Amazon.com and Cascade Outfitters. Doug also can be reached on his Facebook page.

National travel and outfitting trends look positive for 2014

Stand Up Paddle (SUP) boarding is exploding in popularity on lakes, oceans and rivers nationwide. The sport is big in Idaho, too.

By Steve Stuebner

People are less concerned about the economy when making decisions about their summer vacations, and overall, there appears to be an increasing trend of people selecting shorter, and more relaxing and easy-going outdoor adventures vs. high octane adrenaline-filled trips, experts say.

David Brown, executive director of America Outdoors Association, said he expects adventure travel to increase in 2014 over last year at the annual meeting of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association.

Idaho Tourism Division officials are expecting the same thing. Outfitted and guiding activities contribute to a $3.4 billion tourism economy in Idaho, which generates more than 26,000 jobs and more than $500 million in local, state and federal taxes.

“We’re on the cusp of recovery,” Brown says, echoing national economic trends.

Lodging stays picked up at the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch near Sandpoint in 2013 as well, tracking national trends.

Janice Schoonover, co-owner of the Western Pleasure Guest Ranch in Sandpoint, agrees that with the improved economy, business is picking up. “2007 was our last, best year before the crash, and 2013 was our best year ever,” Schoonover says. “So I would agree that we’re coming back alive.”

On a national level, the leading outdoor recreation activities showing the most demand and growth in 2013 were:

  • Stand Up Paddle (SUP) surfing and flatwater paddling trips, with 83 percent of outfitters reporting an increase in activity.
  • Guided trips with interpretation and education showed 76 percent growth.
  • Guided fishing trips went up 40 percent.
  • Trips that involved lodging and cabin rentals increased by 45 percent.
  • Hunting and whitewater river trips both went up over 20 percent.

“Softer” trips, family trips and 3-4 day trips are all gaining in popularity, Brown said. “But there’s still a lot of interest in week-long family vacations, especially as the economy improves, he said.

Family trips are increasing as well … Photo courtesy ROW Adventures and Chad Case Photography

Peter Grubb, owner of ROW Adventures in Coeur d’Alene, agreed that interest in family trips is still “pretty strong” and it’s an important component to outdoor trips in general. “You’re introducing the next generation to the outdoors.”

Grubb also has seen an increase in interest in flat-water trips with SUPs on his lake kayaking business on Lake Coeur d’Alene. SUPs are being seen more and more on lakes and rivers in Idaho. Some Salmon River outfitters are offering SUP experiences on the Salmon River, as well as other day-trip rivers such as the Payette.

Trips with education and interpretation are popular, too. Courtesy ROW Adventures

Trips with a strong interpretation component are seen as being valuable by outfitted guests, Grubb said, but they’re hard to market in the brochure and the web site.

“We made interpretation a stronger focus 15-20 years ago, and we teach our guides the material and the techniques on how to share this information,” he said. “Once our guests experience that, they really like it. It’s something that becomes a real highlight of their trip.”

Many of Idaho’s outfitted trips lend themselves to natural interpretive information because of the abundance of wildlife that people see, not to mention Indian pictographs, petroglyphs, plants, trees, geology and more.

“It’s a big added value,” Grubb says. “We do our best to make sure that our guides bring that added value to the trip.”

Interest in fishing trips is on the rise as well. Photo courtesy Shepp Ranch

Idaho outfitters are seeing an increase in trips that involve lodging, too. Western Pleasure Guest Ranch saw increases in lodging last year, and so did Shepp Ranch on the Salmon River. Some outfitters partner with Shepp so their guests can stay one night at a dude ranch as part of their Salmon River experience. That led to more lodging with summer guests, Lynn Demerse said.

As the American population ages, more people may prefer to sleep in a bed at night versus sleeping in a tent, Schoonover said. “The grandparents enjoy doing trips with their children and grandchildren, but they probably don’t want to sleep on the ground at night,” she said.

For more information about Idaho’s guided adventures, see www.ioga.org.