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Boulder Basin back in public ownership

Donation honors the late Sarah Campbell

by GREG STAHL

Sarah Campbell is the reason the Campbell and Wills families found one another and were able to jointly donate 50 acres of old mining claims to the Forest Service. Photo Courtesy Renee Catherin

The beautiful Boulder Basin high in Central Idaho?s Boulder Mountains was the epicenter of a loving feat this week.

As a memorial to their daughter, Lincoln, Neb., residents Doug and Mary Campbell teamed up with the Wes Wills family of Twin Falls to donate 50 acres of private land to the national forest system.

The land is in the heart of the Boulder Basin, an area rich in late-1800s mining history. Old cabins, a mill and mineshafts are still visible from the 9,000-foot-high basin floor, from which rugged 1,600-foot cliffs tower.

On Wednesday, Sept. 8, family, friends, elected officials and Forest Service employees gathered at the headquarters of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area to honor the Campbells? late daughter, Sarah P. Campbell, and to thank the Campbell and Wills families for their generosity.

?On behalf of the Sawtooth National Forest, and really on behalf of all American people, I am happy to accept this most gracious gift,? said Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Ruth Monahan.

The Campbell?s daughter, Sarah, was killed in an avalanche in December 2000 while skiing in the backcountry near Dead Horse Pass in Teton County, Wyo.

?By donating this historic site, we will be honoring Sarah?s commitment to protecting the beauty and integrity of the area,? the Campbells wrote. ?This parcel of land is symbolic of Sarah?s work and experiences in, and love for, the mountains here in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.?

Sarah was a graduate of Colorado College in Colorado Springs and of the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming. During college, she worked for the Forest Service in Idaho and Wyoming on trail and fire crews.

?It is a very special privilege for the Wills family to be a co-donor of this land with the Campbell family,? said Wes Wills, speaking on behalf of his family. ?The Forest Service brought our families together, and, as a result, we have been able to make a much more substantial and meaningful gift.

?We are very pleased for this opportunity to give a long-term conservation contribution to a special area that our family has used and enjoyed for the past 70 years.?

The 50-acre donation includes three patented mining claims, among 20 that are scattered throughout the basin and on the flanks and summit of Boulder Peak. But the three donated claims include the Boulder Basin floor and, once in public ownership, effectively block mining access to the remaining 17, said Intermountain Region Mining Engineer Jeff Gabardi.

Officials made clear how special an occurrence the donation is.

?Donations are a very rare event,? said SNRA Lands Program Administrator Jinee Joy. ?In fact, this will be the third donation in 30 years of land acquisitions here.?

Joy called the Boulder Basin ?land above the ordinary.?

The 50 acres of donated land contain the remains of old Boulder City, including the historic mill, four cabins and other mining structures. Boulder City was the second town established in the Wood River Valley, and in its heyday, it boasted a store, hotel, post office, corral, saloon, cabins, and ore processing mill and a number of mines. Active mining took place from the 1800s through to the 1980s.

The Boulder Basin mines produced gold, silver, copper and lead. Experts estimate that more than $1 million worth of ore was produced in the area before 1900. Between 1900 and the mid-1980s, Boulder Basin produced 110,000 ounces of silver, 610 ounces of gold and 1.3 million pounds of lead.

The Wednesday morning celebration and dedication featured a number of speakers who talked about mining, the physical attributes of Boulder Basin and about the families who donated the land.

But Forest Service employee Renee Catherin, who used to work with Sarah Campbell, summed things up with a vivid depiction of her friend?s relationship with the mountains.

On Sept. 24, 1999, on her way back to school, she left these words in a trail registry:

?Wilderness is a philosophy, not a boundary. It is what keeps the soul focused, happy and strong. If the boundaries disintegrate, I will not perish, for there will always be sweat. Adios Custer County. Love Sarah.?

The land dedication ?is so in keeping with her spirit,? Catherin said. ?It?s an extremely meaningful and beautiful thing to do.?



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