Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wilds of Idaho become a little more accessible with a new trail near Ketchum

From Idaho Statesman:

KETCHUM — Amanda Walton took off ahead of a group heading down the Murdock Creek Trail in the Boulder Mountains recently, her electric wheelchair bouncing over small rocks and bumps.

Walton, a U.S. Paralympic gold medalist from Ketchum, got going too fast and dumped her chair. She lay on the trail until the rest of her group caught up. With the powerful strength of her upper body, she got up with help from two hikers and a third who righted her chair.

Soon, she was back on the trail with a few scrapes but no complaints.

“I compare it to jogging and taking a digger,” she said.

Walton is used to picking herself up and overcoming physical handicaps. She was an All American field hockey and lacrosse player at Yale when her car was struck by a driver being chased by police and she suffered a traumatic brain injury. Now she’s a competitive Paralympic swimmer.

Erik Schultz, executive director of the Arthur Schultz Foundation in Sun Valley, can relate. He and Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, came up with the idea of building primitive access trails into the backcounty to open the areas up to people with mobility limitations.

Schultz, who lost the use of his legs in a fall while backcountry skiing in the 1990s, had been up and down the trail dozens of times before the U.S. Forest Service upgraded it in 2010. Wilderness trips, by definition, aren’t supposed to be easy, he said.

“I’ve taken a few headers on this,” he said.

Walton and Schultz made the trip this week to celebrate the grand opening of the Murdock Trail, one of two that Simpson had proposed in his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act.

The wilderness bill hasn’t passed, but Simpson isn’t waiting on some of his priorities. The member of the House Appropriations Committee inserted money in the budget to upgrade the trails.

Simpson said he had no problem getting support for the $200,000 to upgrade Murdock Creek Trail and Phyllis Lake Trail in the White Cloud Mountains.

“The one reason this got done is because it is the right thing to do,” Simpson said.

The Arthur Schultz Foundation, one of whose missions is to provide mobility equipment to those who need it around the world, paid for the environmental assessment necessary. The trail takes users into what would be the Hemingway wilderness area if Simpson’s bill ever passes. The beginning of the fl-mile trail lies off Idaho 75 at the end of North Fork Canyon Road, which passes by the headquarters of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area about eight miles north of Ketchum.

Schultz worked with Simpson to develop a trail that would meet the needs and desires of many different people, such as Jet Turner of Bellevue, who walked in on crutches.

Norman Friedman of Ketchum, who has Parkinson’s disease, used a walker to travel a quarter-mile to the first of two bridges over Murdock. “Up to 12 years ago I did marathons,” he said. “I still like to get out.”

Simpson, an avid golfer, had envisioned a golf cart-type path, but Schultz convinced him it wasn’t wild enough. The trail needs to be hard, mostly flat, but more like, well, a trail.

People with mobility limitations are diverse and include everyone from children to the elderly. Schultz bristles when he hears people describe wilderness as discriminatory to people with disabilities.

“Don’t pigeonhole us,” he said.

Since his accident, he has skied across Yellowstone National Park and regularly goes on whitewater river trips into places like the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. Ed Cannady, the Forest Service recreation specialist who did the studies, has done many trips into the Boulder-White Clouds with Schultz.

“Erik didn’t need a trail,” Cannady said. “He wanted it for other people.”