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Heron must answer the question, "to develop, or not to develop?"

To be developed or not to be developed is not the question; the question is how to develop. In 1988, there was a self-assured, 24-year-old forestry graduate who knew a lot about loblolly pine. One of his kinder nicknames among the seasonal employees on the Cabinet Ranger District was ‘Junior Ranger.’ When it was mentioned to him that the local people had knowledge about the region, his reply was, “I’ll be G*D dammed if I’m going to listen to any logger with an eighth grade education!”

That was the attitude Junior brought to planning development of Big Eddy. Here, where the old highway gently dropped under the waters of the Cabinet Gorge reservoir, was an unofficial boat launch used by locals. About a dozen or so Heron people, hearing a rumor of a boat dock being built, requested that the location remain low key, ‘day use only.’ “Sure”, said Junior, “anything you want.”

A pit toilet, nice addition, was erected. A few picnic tables, a parking lot; for the first few years, Big Eddy remained a nice place. Then campers and trailers moved into the parking lot. Some people were seasonally employed and needed a place to set up; some were on extended camping trips and or squatting. The entire idea of day use was discarded and a brown sign designating campground was erected on the highway. This no fee, unregulated campground has continued to attract squatters, bikers and other long-term campers. It is no longer a pleasant summer spot. Some locals go in the fall to clean up the astounding refuse of sloppy people. In one fire pit were a couple dozen Bud Lite and Pepsi cans, one torn size 8 flip flop, plastic wrappers of chips, blown shot gun shells, empty cans of chili, bread wrappers, plastic forks and covering a stinking, oozing pile of disposable diapers was what appeared to be a small red pup tent. Picked up with a stick, it proved to be a size 3X, sheer polyester blouse. Who are these people?

At the January Heron Town Meeting, Brian Burkey, recreational specialist for AVISTA told attendees that the private landowner had given right-away for AVISTA to improve the road leading to Heron’s unofficial swimming hole.  Did the people want a better road and maybe pit toilet, Burkey asked? At first the fifty or so attendees thought this was a swell idea since the road is in really bad shape and the old privy had fallen years ago.

Then the doubts arose. Several people voiced concern that the swimming hole would become as ill-used as trashed out Triangle Pond. With better roads into and around to Triangle, people now can encircle the water with cans, plastic, and discarded fishing gear. Others feared that it would become a campground filed with strangers like Big Eddy. At least the squatters/campers at the quarry swimming hole had been locals.

It seems a great opportunity to have AVISTA bear the costs of road improvement, but it will take careful planning to avoid the well-meaning mistakes that have resulted in neglected campgrounds.

In the 70s Rodney Brooking built and hauled a raft down to the swimming hole. In the 80s, the Sellmer bunch hauled in tons of sand to create a beach. There once was, when the road was in better shape, a daily rhythm of use. Young mothers with toddlers came in the mid morning and left before nap time. The afternoon belonged to rowdy teenagers—pushing each other off the raft and daring each other to jump from the rocks. In the evening hours, families came, bringing grills and ice chests.

If the Heron community wants to hold onto the values of small town life, it will call for effort, just like Rodney building the raft for everyone’s use. We need, like the Sellmers hauling sand, to take responsibility for our own recreational ‘day use’ site.

If those of us who live along the Clark Fork do not take part in development, we will continue to see diminished landscapes that don’t nourish the soul, and do damage to our communities.

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Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

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