For the week of August 26 thru September 1, 1998  

Worming their way through the SNRA

The Sawtooth Society hopes to repair an historic fence


By KATHRYN BEAUMONT
Express Staff Writer

26fenc3.gif (14223 bytes)The worm fence, named for its winding, zigzagging character, is a symbol throughout the SNRA. (Express photos by Kathryn Beaumont)

It zigzags along highways, pastures and streambeds, winding its way for dozens and dozens of miles throughout the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

Aptly named, the split-rail worm fence is the quintessential western fence, according to master fence builder Doug Brown.

"It’s the cheapest and easiest," he said. "There’s no barbed wire. All you need is a saw and a strong back."

Brown should know. As a Forest Service ranger in the 1970s, he learned how to build and repair the fences.

Now, 20 years later, Brown no longer works for the Forest Service, and weather and wear have taken their toll: The worm fences of the SNRA need some attention.

Enter the Sawtooth Society.

A nonprofit group that supports activities within the SNRA, the society is launching an "adopt-a-fence" program to rebuild some 20 miles of worm fencing on public lands along highways 21 and 75.

Sawtooth Society executive director Bob Hayes tapped Brown to be the de facto organizer for the project until the society can hire a full-time coordinator sometime this winter. Hayes said the "adopt-a-fence" program will go into full-swing in 1999.

The Forest Service will supply the free-use wood permits; all the Society needs now is the manual labor.

Hayes hopes to recruit volunteers from the Sawtooth and Wood River valleys willing to give fence building a shot.

"A family of four can build a quarter-mile of fence in about half a day," he said.

Brown, the expert fence-builder, agrees.

"You just stack the logs up," Brown said. "The only tricky parts are when you go up and down hills, or near wetlands areas."

Hayes said the project will give people a connection and a feeling of ownership within the SNRA.

"It’s people intensive," Hayes said. "Maybe someone who comes up here as a child and builds a fence will come back 20 years later and say, ‘There’s the fence I helped build.’"

Once the initial 20 miles of fence is restored, the project will simply re-repair existing or new fences.

"I can see a situation where this can go on forever," said Hayes.

The Lawler family, who own a ranch in the Sawtooth Valley, took the first stab at worm-repair last Saturday.

26fenc2.gif (16349 bytes)The Lawler family, Drew and Linda Lawler, their children Katie and Ryan and their niece Kellie, proudly perch atop the fence they restored.

Drew and Linda Lawler, their children Katie and Ryan and their niece Kellie, built about three panels of fence in 20 minutes.

"It goes up fast," Drew said.

The results, however, will last a little longer.

"We’re making a commitment to preserve the area," Linda said.

 

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