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Seeking North Fork solutions

by JOSH McDONALD
Staff Writer | August 14, 2020 1:00 AM

WALLACE — The Friends of the River Coalition (FORC) recently met with the Shoshone Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to air their grievances concerning the perceived mismanagement of the North Fork Region of the Coeur d’Alene River.

The meeting, held in one of the courtrooms at the county courthouse to accommodate multiple people, was designed for the BOCC to hear the grassroots group out and then see if they had any ideas for a viable solution to those issues.

FORC leader Dawn Wiksten was eloquent in her opening statements to the board, highlighting that she and her group’s intentions are not to run people off the river, but to see it preserved and protected as it is being used.

“The reason we’re coming to you is because we don’t feel we’re being heard to begin with,” Wiksten said. “The river is being abused. We are a beautiful area, with no cost to park, no costs of any kind and we’re picking up the tab. I know there’s anger from people from out-of-state, but I have said all along, this is not about people from out-of-state, this is about how we regulate our own district, our own territory.”

The issues relating to the North Fork, presented by members of FORC, spanned many topics including jet boats on the river, littering, parking, use of private driveways for turn-arounds, human waste in the river and the presence of law enforcement.

According to Wiksten and her cohorts, a solution could be found in the possible creation of a recreation district, but with a few alterations.

Recreation districts in other areas normally come with additional tax dollars, but FORC is vehemently opposed to adding anything to the tax rolls of Shoshone County.

Instead, they would like to follow a model similar to the Clearwater Management Council (CMC), a multiagency cooperative consisting of county commissioners from Latah, Nez Perce, Clearwater, Lewis and Idaho counties, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Bureau of Land Management and many varying special interest groups. Their goal is enhancing safe and enjoyable opportunities along the Clearwater River, from Kooskia to the confluence with the Snake River and its major tributaries.

The CMC has been in effect for nearly 30 years and uses the strengths of its members to handle the various issues that arise in their area of focus. The council is funded by the five counties involved, who pay into a fund based on the amount of revenue received from boat registrations, as well as monies from BLM and Idaho Parks and Recreation.

Their model also has money set aside for paid “River Manager” positions and BLM provides a vehicle for the position.

One of the biggest challenges to implementing a similar system locally is the North Fork area being almost completely inside Shoshone County, which would leave it footing a large part of the bill if it followed the CMC model. This doesn’t mean though that elements of the CMC model can’t help lay the framework for a Shoshone version.

The BOCC was pleased to finally sit down with the group and hear them out to hopefully find some common ground.

“The meeting went well,” said BOCC chairman Mike Fitzgerald. “When folks get to sit face-to-face, it becomes very clear that there is quite a bit of common ground. Specifically, when it came to identifying issues, potential solutions, mechanisms that can be used to resolve the issues and lack of funds that are needed. We look forward to working with the Friends of the River Coalition into the future.”

Fitzgerald is also happy that along with voicing its frustrations, the group came prepared with a potential solution. Historically, the various groups that have tried to tackle the same goals as FORC have not had any solutions to the issues they had.

Wiksten isn’t as optimistic as her BOCC counterpart, but vows that her group isn’t going to stop working toward a goal with the BOCC to benefit Shoshone County.

“We must continue to work together,” Wiksten said. “I am not trusting anyone to move forward without us and we aren’t convinced we are going to have change. We are going to hold tight in the wind.”

FORC and the BOCC will meet again on Tuesday, Aug. 25, to look at possible next steps.