054 payette watershedLumber in early Payette Valley was cheap and plentiful from Emmett sawmill.  In my day this was biggest yellow pine mill in the world. It had the Payette’s entire huge drainage system of old growth yellow pine — massive trees 8-10 feet in diameter.  Thick forests.  I spent much of my business life in construction and, believe me, no lumber can compare with old growth lumber.  Clear of knots, straight, a builder’s dream material.  It was the perfect wood, at the perfect time for early Payette Valley orchards. Cheap because the Payette led straight and heavy flow to move logs from any part of the drainage straight to the mill and/or railroad.


It was the perfect lumber for 2 x 2 apple props, and close-to-source meant almost no transport fees — which usually is the highest portion of the cost. Yellow pine is a beautiful wood to cut or to plane.

054 payette watershedbIn 1944 my dad built our house and barn from this wood. Because of WWII, lumber was rationed — most of it going to build pallets and shipping container type things for military shipping.  But the small portion saved from that fate was the heartwood — the best — so the lumber we were allowed was perfect. So perfect I have never since seen its like!  I call it heirloom lumber as we will never see its like again!  Every time I see photos of my old home, house and barn, I see those perfect boards that we used.



054 payette watershedcPayette Valley Lumber, then became Boise Cascade, then a number of iterations ending up as Office Max…., took all the old growth lumber out of Payette Valley watershed (all sold to it and permitted by US Forest Service). And, then self imploded, having literally “mined” all available assets, selling the company, again and again.  Or siphoning off assets in different directions, leaving Emmett high and dry, with huge old buildings and infra structure, nothing to put into it, its tax base devastated, and losing most of the jobs that had supported the town since founded.



054 payette watersheddThat forest was comprised of magnificent old growth trees, of the best quality. But, eventually even such a huge forest succumbs. I used to love this enormous forest — camping out under the trees, the breeze blowing thru with the slight wind’s soul deep sigh only heard in big forests, the smell of the trees, the sound of the river, the scream of cougars like a woman with an imminent death threat!  Every trip into that forest was a soul trip.  Like vitamins to one’s soul — hunting, fishing, camping, hiking.  To me it was the very essence of Idaho — the jewel in its crown.



054 payette watershedeThe Payette WAS the most beautiful river I have ever seen in any photo or visit, especially the cascades above Banks.  Pool after pool of deep clear water, each impounded by gigantic boulders and/or logs, and cascading down to the next and the next, like a giant staircase of waterfalls for many miles. The pools were ringed with fishermen and or bathers every weekend — the perfect fishing pool or most perfect swimming hole.

This was most of the way from Payette Lakes down to where Cascade Dam is presently.  The two lane winding highway alongside was overhung in most places by closely growing huge trees that formed a complete canopy over the road in places. The effect though beautiful, meant that the road was eternally slick from dripping moisture, that could not dry because it was dark and protected from the sun.  The wet winding pavement meant that drivers, impatient with 35 mph speed limit, a very narrow and winding road, and in too big a hurry, would go off the road now and then.  Should they end up in the deep pools, then the water flow sucked their cars under the rock and tree dams of the cascades and made getting them out, or even finding them, difficult or impossible.  Centuries, even millenia of boulders going round and around in potholes drilled and eroded them deep, creating whirlpools here and there.  It was nothing except gorgeous!

054 payette watershedfBut all that would change.  Cascade dam was built to impound the north fork from Cascade up thru round and long valleys destroying those valleys’ beauty and use as well.  But that was not enough for the people, who dreamed up a freeway from Boise, a “straight shot” so they could more easily access their second homes up around Payette Lakes.

They dynamited and bulldozed out the mountain crags and beautiful rock overhangs, dynamited all the large boulders and shunted all the resulting debris like garbage into the river. This pushed the river over to one side. This filled all the big pools and potholes, eliminated all the cascades, and made the lower Payette flow just like a gutter all its length down to Horseshoe Bend.

The magnificent “fall” — the elevation drop that made the falls and cascades and unending waterfall is now is only a constant ripple — again just like a concreted gutter in the city.  I cried and cried when I saw what they had done, and have never gone back.  This valley had been the gem of Idaho, similar to Yosemite Valley in the Sierras.

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