Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Scenic overlook dedicated to Church family

Frank and Bethine Church honored at Sunday event

Express Staff Writer

Bethine Church is Idaho?s leading lady when it comes to the protection of natural resources. She and her late husband, U.S. Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, were honored Sunday with the renaming of a viewpoint near Galena Summit as the Bethine and Frank Church Overlook. Photo by Willy Cook

The facilities at Galena Overlook on the north side of Galena Summit were built in 1964, the same year the Wilderness Act was passed into law, aided by the efforts of the Senate floor leader, one Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho.

And so it is probably fitting that the overlook was renamed Sunday the Bethine and Frank Church Overlook for the prominent Idaho political couple's tireless efforts to preserve the wild character of the wildest state in the lower 48 United States.

The overlook shares more than a birthday with the Wilderness Act. It offers sweeping views of the Sawtooth Mountains and inherent Sawtooth Wilderness Area, headwaters of the Salmon River and the White Cloud Mountain foothills, where wilderness designation is pending a vote by the U.S. Senate.

It is the most visited site in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

It was Sunday, July 30, 2006, sunny but cool and 8,450 feet above sea level, 30 miles south of Stanley and 32 miles north of Ketchum. The views of Salmon River country were a glaring presence, and about 100 people gathered at the overlook to honor the Church family and view plans for the site's restoration.

Bethine Church, hunkering beneath a black cowboy hat, charmed the crowd with her typical wit and toothy smile.

"Today is a special day for me and my family," she said. "It's a reminder that our legislators of different political parties can work together to protect this beautiful country."

Due in part to her and her late husband's efforts, as well as the efforts of other prominent Idaho politicians, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area was designated in 1972, and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area was established in 1980.

Bethine Church has deep Idaho roots and strong ties to Salmon River country. She was born in Mackay, the daughter of Chase Clark, who would become Idaho governor. In 1917, her parents homesteaded Robinson Bar Ranch, which is situated at the north edge of what is now the SNRA.

"Forrest and Chase (Bethine and Frank Church's sons) spent many happy summers on the ranch," Bethine Church said.

She summarized the privilege of being honored by reading one of her late husband's favorite sayings, a quote inscribed on his tombstone:

"I've never known a person who felt self-important in the morning after spending the night on an Idaho mountainside under a star-studded sky."

Bob Hayes, executive director of the Sawtooth Society, which Bethine Church helped found, said the SNRA is a special place made special by people like Bethine and Frank Church.

"People are usually astonished that it remains as relatively unchanged as it is," he said. "Sen. Church has left a political legacy that lasted far beyond his death in 1974."

He said Bethine Church is "a force to be reckoned with in her own right ... She is credited as her husband's most important political advisor. Those who live in and visit the Sawtooth owe Bethine a lot."

Indeed, the newly christened Frank and Bethine Church Overlook is a popular place, and it is now imbibed with a little more of Idaho's rich public land history and personalities.

"I think each of us can recall the first time we drove over Galena and pulled out at this overlook," said Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Ruth Monahan. "This is to honor and pay tribute to a very special woman, but also a very special couple, Frank and Bethine Church."

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