Wednesday, January 12, 2005

What awaits Papa's 'Garden of Eden'?

The Nature Conservancy to hold public meeting on future of Hemingway House

Express Staff Writer

If the Hemingway House is opened to the public, a proposed nature trail to the home sitting above the Big Wood River would start from the Park and Ride lot in Ketchum. Express photos by Chris Pilaro

How to get involved

The Nature Conservancy of Idaho will hold a community meeting on Thursday, Jan. 13, at 6 p.m. in the Limelight Room of the Sun Valley Inn to determine the future of the Hemingway House in Ketchum. The organization, which owns the Hemingway property, will solicit comments on whether the site should be renovated and opened for limited public access or sold to a private buyer. Those who cannot attend the meeting can submit comments on the matter via e-mail to E-mail comments should include the writer's name, address and contact information.

The fate of one of the Wood River Valley's most-prized—and controversial—cultural sites could be determined this week.

The Nature Conservancy of Idaho, the Hailey-based land-preservation organization that owns the onetime Ketchum house of author Ernest Hemingway, is asking Wood River Valley residents to weigh in on whether the property should be renovated and opened for limited public access.

At a community meeting Thursday, Jan. 13, at 6 p.m. in the Limelight Room of the Sun Valley Inn, TNC will present and solicit comments on four different options for managing the Hemingway property.

"We're doing this because it is time for a hard decision to be made about the future of the house," said Geoff Pampush, TNC Idaho director. "The Nature Conservancy needs to move on."

At stake is the fate of the final residence of one of the United States' greatest literary figures. Located northwest of central Ketchum, off East Canyon Run Boulevard, the rustic Hemingway House sits on approximately 13 acres of pristine land overlooking the Big Wood River.

Hemingway—a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature—purchased the property circa 1959. At the time, Hemingway and his fourth wife, Mary, also maintained an estate in San Francisco de Paulo, Cuba, called the Finca Vigia.

After purchasing the Ketchum residence for $50,000, Hemingway wrote to a friend, Gen. Buck Lanham: "This place ... was a wonderful buy. I plan to live here in the shooting months, which correspond to the hurricane months and the early northers in Cuba. My health and Mary's needs a change of climate from the subtropics for part of each year."

While residing at his Ketchum estate, Hemingway wrote portions of "The Garden of Eden," a posthumously published novel about a writer who struggles to emerge from a complex love triangle, and "A Moveable Feast," a lively memoir of his early days as a writer in Paris.

Suffering from depression and a variety of health ailments, Hemingway killed himself with a 12-gauge shotgun in the front room of the house on July 2, 1961. He was 61.

Mary Hemingway lived in the Ketchum house until 1986, when she fell ill, died and bequeathed the property to TNC. Her will granted the estate and $100,000 to TNC with specific instructions that the site be maintained as a "wildlife preserve and nature reference library."

The acreage surrounding the house has been maintained in a relatively pristine state and is today the largest parcel of undeveloped land in the Ketchum city limits.

The house was originally used as a TNC office but in recent years has essentially been left unoccupied, with TNC spending some $35,000 a year on basic maintenance.

In a letter sent this month to some 13,000 Wood River Valley residents, Pampush said TNC wants to liberate itself from managing the estate so it can focus on its mission to protect and preserve natural areas.

"We decided this important historical home could best be managed by an organization focused on preserving its inherent literary and cultural values while maintaining the preservation-library mandate," Pampush noted.

In 2003, a group including part-time Ketchum resident Mariel Hemingway, the writer's granddaughter, formed the Idaho Hemingway House Foundation, a nonprofit organization that reached a nonbinding agreement with TNC to manage the property.

The foundation's plans called for restoring the house to its 1961 condition, conducting public tours of the site, developing a scholarly library, holding writing workshops and establishing a writer-in-residence program.

Last winter, the foundation applied to the city of Ketchum for a conditional land-use permit to allow limited public access to the site.

A group of East Canyon Run Boulevard residents vociferously opposed the concept, claiming that public tours of the site would lead to unacceptable levels of noise and disturbance in the quiet residential neighborhood. Vehicular access to the Hemingway House is achieved via a private neighborhood road.

Some opponents have said public tours would establish the house as an international tourist attraction, as is Hemingway's former residence in Key West, Fla. The IHHF contends visitation will be strictly controlled.

After negotiations with the neighbors broke down last spring, TNC withdrew its application to allow public access. Negotiations resumed but ultimately failed to render a resolution.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Hemingway House Foundation is planning to raise $500,000 to restore the house and establish limited access for public tours and programs.

With a legal battle with the neighbors looming, Pampush said conferring the house to the IHHF is still the preference of TNC.

Of the four options being considered, the preferred TNC plan would include conveying the house to the IHHF and retaining a conservation easement on the surrounding land to maintain it as a nature preserve.

The IHHF would restore the house and establish a nature library, literary workshops and a writer-in-residence program.

In addition, the IHHF would seek permission to conduct guided public tours of the house up to two times per day, with a maximum of 15 people allowed on each tour. Access would be achieved by a passenger van that would pass through the Canyon Run neighborhood or by a walking trail exclusively on public and Hemingway-estate lands.

Two other options call for selling the property to a private buyer, with variations on what restrictions would be placed on the new owners' rights.

The fourth option, one TNC favors the least, calls for TNC to retain the home in its current, deteriorating condition, with no public visitation allowed.

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