Our Perspective on Recreation in the Owyhee
On our platforms, we constantly tout the Owyhee as an ecologically and geologically unique bioregion. It’s a wild and remote landscape, one of the last few left in the lower 48. These qualities also make it delicate, lands that should be handled with care.
During our short time as a non-profit, several Friends have voiced their concerns regarding our stance on recreation on the public lands of the Owyhee. We are grateful that our Friends feel comfortable coming to us with concerns and opinions about this incredible landscape that we all love. We believe it’s only right to make a publicized statement about our perspective on recreation in the Owyhee so as to be as transparent as possible.
The Secret Is Out
Many folks have expressed the opinion of keeping the Owyhee a secret treasure and not broadcasting its incredible value. Unfortunately, we are completely past the Owyhee being off the avid public lands adventurer’s radar. Long before Friends of the Owyhee was founded, the Owyhee’s public lands were being promoted and drawing recreation attention. In the day and age of social media and smartphones, information is easily and readily accessible right at our fingertips. Furthermore, the population of the Boise, Idaho metro area is ever-increasing, with now more than 1 million people sitting on the doorstep of the Owyhee. These pressures make it impossible to keep the Owyhee a secret anymore, and the fact of the matter is that the secret has been out for quite some time now.
In an effort to balance this, we exclusively promote the Owyhee Front, including (a) Wilson Creek to Jump Creek, (b) Succor Creek area, (c) Lake Owyhee and Lower Owyhee Canyon, and (d) Leslie Gulch. The development in these areas significantly precedes Friends of the Owyhee, and they are all fairly well-documented in various media sources, including Travel Oregon, TripAdvisor, and travel blogs like Road Trip Ryan. We make very few exceptions when traveling outside of these areas as we prefer to keep the rest of the Owyhee as wild and rugged as possible, especially considering that’s part of its charm.
We are the voice for Owyhee recreationists, and we are requesting improvements to these well-traveled areas to prevent further over-trampling. For example, the Lower Owyhee Canyon and Lake Owyhee are extremely well-visited (an average of 250,000 visitors per year according to a 7-year average), but thus far, little has been done to maintain—let alone improve—existing infrastructure. We believe that by providing better infrastructure, improved management, and more staff in areas like the Lower Owyhee Canyon, they have a better chance of staying beautiful in the long term. For this very reason, we continue to advocate for these improvements with the managing entities (e.g., Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State Parks). We prefer to be proactive rather than reactive to the issue that is arising in this landscape, yet we also acknowledge that we are on the cusp of it becoming reactive.
Engaging Those That Oppose
It has been well-documented in the conservation of public lands movement that people will not value what they have never seen. As a colleague of ours says, “A person seeing a landscape and falling in love with it is the birth of an advocate.” One of the main reasons that Friends of the Owyhee was founded was to introduce locals to this varied landscape, especially those that claimed that there wasn’t “anything out there”. Our conservation advocacy trips are aptly named: our end goal with taking people out into the Owyhee is to inspire more folks to be Owyhee and public lands conservation advocates. While these trips do venture beyond the Owyhee Front, they are often to other well-known areas like Three Forks or Birch Creek. That said, we cannot hold ourselves responsible for the rise in popularity of recreation in the Owyhee; while we are interacting with more and more people, we often find that the folks we encounter out on the landscape have never heard of Friends of the Owyhee. In fact, while wearing our official-looking garb (even just a Friends of the Owyhee t-shirt), we have been stopped by fellow recreators to answer questions about the geology, botany, or history of the area. It’s become clear to us over time that current recreators of the Owyhee want more accessible educational resources, and we are more than happy to fill that niche as it allows us to share information about protections and responsible recreation ethics.
Much of our content on social media depicts us out on the landscape. While we love to get out there as much as we can, it’s really more a visual demonstration that works on several levels. We aim to (a) show people the beauty of the landscape, (b) engage our audience’s hearts, and (c) garner support for permanent protections that we are striving toward. We certainly take pride in our varied trips and we love to take people out to the landscape, but this is largely exaggerated. We acknowledge that our messaging surrounding our work is in need of a change: we have strategic plans in place to highlight more of our conservation and stewardship work, rather than primarily centering our recreation trips.
Inclusion and Connecting People with Nature
Some of us had the privilege of growing up in the outdoors, especially those of us from previous generations when we weren’t as concerned about landscape degradation due to visitation or climate change. The folks—youth included—in our community are incredibly fortunate to have such beautiful and wild public lands just out their backdoor. We refute the notion that nature should be an “out there somewhere” novelty to members of our community, relegated to a once-in-a-while (if ever!) trip to a national park or the coast. Our staff has a collective desire to see future generations have a connection with the land to inspire a sense of dedication and advocacy on behalf of the environment.
Ultimately, we promote the Owyhee from a heart of recreation. We are not a guide service extracting wealth from the landscape nor do we benefit financially from visitation. We simply want future generations to have ecologically healthy access to the Owyhee and we believe this path is accomplished with a combination of permanent land protection legislation and disseminating education resources on responsible recreation.