Friday, June 19, 2009

Agency says hold it at Galena Overlook

Site remodel will include the removal of toilet facilities

Express Staff Writer

Joyce Elliott, a tourist from North Carolina, takes a break Wednesday at the Bethine and Frank Church Overlook northwest of Ketchum along state Highway 75. The site, which was called the Galena Overlook until 2006, will be reconstructed this summer.

Work is set to begin this summer on rebuilding the scenic Galena Overlook, the most visited site in the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The spot is located northwest of Ketchum along state Highway 75 just past Galena Summit.

One hitch: The U.S. Forest Service, lacking funds to do a complete renovation, will not be rebuilding the public restrooms that now occupy the site. The parking lot regularly fills with tourists, sightseers and bicyclists looking for a view or, alternately, a break.

The spot was renamed the Bethine and Frank Church Overlook in late July 2006 to honor the efforts by the former Idaho Senator and his widow to preserve the state's treasured wildlands.

The popular overlook provides travelers with unparalleled views of the upper Salmon River headwaters, the Sawtooth Valley, the foothills of the White Cloud Mountains and much of the jagged Sawtooth Mountains.

The facilities 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 Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho.

Since that time, constant exposure to harsh winter conditions has taken its toll on the building and associated facilities at the overlook.

The reconstruction project by the Sawtooth National Forest will include the removal of the overlook's toilets, potable water system and water lines, which are more than a mile long, and closure of the sewer lagoons. The Forest Service also plans to improve access and parking availability at the site.

Additional work is planned to improve the interpretive opportunities at the site.

Due in part to Bethine Church and her late husband's efforts, as well as the efforts of other Idaho politicians, the SNRA was designated in 1972, and the nearby 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area was established in 1980.

On Tuesday, SNRA area ranger Sara Baldwin told Blaine County Commissioners that the Forest Service has just opened up bidding on the overlook reconstruction project.

Baldwin acknowledged that some people may be upset by the decision to remove the restroom facilities from the roadside site. However, the cost of maintaining these facilities is currently too much for the forest to bear, she said.

Frigid weather normally makes the restrooms unusable except for a brief several-month window during the summer.

Still, she said toilets could be installed at some point as part of the project's approval.

"The decision will allow for restrooms in the future if we find some sustainable form of funding," she said.

Jason Kauffman:

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