Hunting and fishing gets you outside in a manner that can be achieved by traveling in your own car with a small group of close friends. Being in situations with these sideboards greatly limits your risk of illness during this pandemic. Furthermore, Cache Valley spans two states that probably have more hunting and fishing opportunities than any other two adjoining states in the nation. From this Valley you can drive hundreds of miles to the south and hundreds of miles to the north and never leave these state’s boundaries. It is possible to hunt turkeys in the larch and fir studded forests of Northern Idaho or pursue deer in the red rock country of Southern Utah. Similarly, anglers can catch sturgeon in the Snake River of Idaho or striped bass in Utah’s Lake Powell.
The last seven months have shown how quickly hunters and anglers can respond to the additional opportunities that result from altered work conditions. Federal land management agencies, however, were not as quick to adapt to this outbreak. Public lands in many locations were over used and under maintained. Clearly federal agencies had not planned how to safely hire and deploy a workforce to respond to increased use under these circumstances. This backlog, for the most part, has disappeared and hopefully federal land management agencies have learned how to be more responsive in future emergency situations. In contrast, after the first month or two of interstate quarantines, both states did a great job coping with the increased visitor demand at state parks. What Utah and Idaho parks did not have enough of, was capacity.
Even with the increased number of people outdoors, most individuals have been helpful and patient. Some recreationists did have trouble cleaning up after themselves, especially in areas with easy access. I’ve also been somewhat disappointed to see how few deer hunters in Utah and Idaho are willing to hike off trails. In six days spent deer hunting, I’ve seen only one person greater than a quarter mile from a road. Instead, this year Utah hunters seem to have had some difficulty in keeping their off-highway vehicles and e-bikes off non-motorized trails or closed roads. This has been less of a concern in Idaho as people caught on one of these vehicles in the wrong places chance losing their hunting privileges for a year or two.
The diversity of outdoor opportunities is likely why so many of my favorite outdoor writers called or call Idaho or Utah home. Ernest Hemingway’s spent part of his life in Ketchum, Idaho. Reading his book, Green Hills of Africa, reminds me of hunting trips taken with friends to new locations. While Hemingway’s trip was to a far away continent, the situations he describes reminds me of campfire discussions of the day’s successes and planning the following day’s hunt.
The outdoor writer for Field and Stream, Ted Trueblood, grew up in Idaho. His musings in that magazine taught me much of what I knew about hunting and fishing as a youngster. Finally, Terry Tempest Williams calls Southern Utah home. Her book Refuge provides insight into how the places we live and people we share these spaces with, make us who we are. I think part of the reason these authors are so revered is because living in Utah and Idaho provided them with unique experiences they could shape into words. The many excellent books set in Utah and Idaho make these states harder to hide from outsiders.
Hunters and anglers are not the only people who have been taking advantage of additional outdoor experiences in Utah and Idaho during this pandemic. Many non-residents have been sticking around longer as they can now work on-line. Last month saw 520,000 visitors to Zion National Park. This is a new record for the month of September despite few foreign travelers being included in that number. Boise and Park City are currently listed as two of the top 10 trending destinations nationwide. An unintended effect of this pause from being required to work in an office may be more people from nearby states choose to call Utah or Idaho home.
We are lucky to live in a valley nestled between two states that have many hunting, fishing, and other recreational opportunities. Having mountains, lakes and rivers to escape too has made a very screwed up 2020 a bit more livable. With new work options being opened or accelerated by the presence of the coronavirus, a question citizens of Cache Valley must address over the next decade is how we maintain the quality of these outdoor experiences as more people move to our states.