Kickstarting the River Season in Salmon

I grew up in the southern Idaho desert, so it’s not hard for me to get on board the celebration of Riverfest in my adopted hometown of Salmon.

For the first few years I lived here, I marvelled at how non-plussed the local community seemed about having a Wild and Scenic River flow through town. So when a group of young Salmon-ites re-kindled the town’s Riverfest tradition in 2011, I took notice.

Breann Westfall, a board member of the Salmon Whitewater Park Association and an organizer of the event for the past 3 years, said Riverfest is intended to kickstart Salmon’s river season.

After an evening of homegrown and professional action films in the upstairs of the historic and funky Oddfellows Hall, much of the audience mosied across Main Street to the Owl Club. Still known as “Salmon’s Fun Spot,” the Owl Club had a several year runner where things weren’t that fun, and the iconic bar even closed its door for a brief stint. But Friday night resembled old times with river guides young and old crowding shoulder-to-shoulder, sharing drinks and stories of early season, high water antics.

By noon on Saturday, a mass of people thronged at the BLM launch site at Shoup Bridge, 5 miles south of Salmon. Father Chase, the young Catholic priest of St. Charles Parish, offered the Blessing of the Boats for about 40 rafts, drift boats, kayaks, pontoons, and stand-up paddle boards. We prayed for a safe season and floated down the gentle section to town’s Island Park.

I spotted Breann and her 2-year-old son Zane, and Zane’s buddy Emmett, a Charlie Brown look-alike spending his 2nd birthday on his maiden voyage down the Salmon. I asked Breann, who has been a licensed river guide since she was 18, what it was like to grow up with the Salmon River in her backyard.

I envied her answer. At Salmon High, they learned to kayak in P.E., and as soon as she and her younger brothers were old enough to drive, they spent all their summer free time downriver past North Fork kayaking Pine Creek rapids and the more challenging day stretch of the Main.

Breann moved back to Salmon in 2009 after grad school at the University of Nevada-Reno. The empty store fronts on Main Street bug her; she wants Riverfest to boost the town’s economy. “We’re isolated in Salmon, we’re in the middle of places that have more wealth like Sun Valley and Missoula, but people struggle to make a living here. We’re a working class kind of town, and those of us who organized Riverfest want to help out where we can. I do this because I care about Salmon,” Breann explained.

Riverfest’s biggest event, the Saturday night concert with one of the Northwest’s favorite live band – the Clumsy Lovers, packed Island Park. As the throngs jammed to the Celtic-infused rock, the park’s resident osprey soared above with their catch of the day still wiggling in sharp talons, and little kids practiced tossing throw bags and bouncing on drying rafts, warmed by the sunny day.

It’s safe to say that the river season has officially started in Salmon, Idaho.

By Gina Knudson

This event was supported by

Summit National Bank, Local Options Tax Commission, Riverwear, Geertson Creek Mobile Hogs, Verdell and Valerie Olson, Smith Optics, Maravia, Cascade Outfitters, The Art of Design Studio, Odd Fellows’ Bakery, Kuhl, Worldkayak.com, Bertrams Brewery, Bender Beverage, Idaho Falls Beer Fest, Westfall Inc., Arctic Ice, Computer Zen, Junkyard Bistro, and Mother Chukars Cafe.

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