Looking Beyond Potatoes

Monday, July 2, 2018 - 6:09pm


Frannie Nelson

When I told others I would be working in Idaho for the summer, they mostly laughed or seemed unenthused.

“Potatoes right?” they’d joke.

Kind of like when I say I go to Colgate University and people say,

“The toothpaste?” – funny, very original!

Jokes on them though because Ashton, while itself is a small ag-town with a pretty empty Main Street, is in a wonderful area.

    Drive five minutes east and you enter Caribou-Targhee National Forest; filled with white and green aspens flickering in the wind and the smell of sage taken over by pine, interwoven with rivers and streams (Henry’s Fork!). Swans float around in the lakes lining Highway 20. Keep an eye out for elk and deer crossing and, if you're lucky, you might spot some grizzlies sitting in those potato fields just outside the forest. Keep going another half hour and you’ll hit Yellowstone; one of the most iconic National Parks in the country.

    Head thirty minutes southeast (assuming you don’t get stuck behind a slow car) on Highway 32 where you’ll reach the Teton Valley. Not to mention the drive over is gorgeous; green hills with the Teton range peeping closer over each hill and in about twenty miles more you’ll reach Jackson Hole.

    The work that I have done so far has taken me all over this region. Water sampling, while often takes a while, allows me to see over ten different beautiful spots along the river - from the Flat Rock Club where docks stretch out to the middle of the crystal-clear water, all the way down to St. Anthony where the river braids through town. Discharge measurements led me in and across the river on a warm sunny day, where I calculated depth and velocity. I’ve spent some time testing turbidity levels in the lab as well.

    However, my main project is far from these tasks. A couple times a week, I drive over to Driggs at 7:00am for the morning shift or 1:00pm for afternoons where I begin my Recreational Use and Economic Value Survey along the Upper Teton River. I spend the day driving between six different river access sites interviewing any recreational users, from dog walkers to floaters or fisherman. I ask them a couple questions regarding party size, or days on the river, but our primary goal is encouraging them to take a more detailed survey online about their use of the river. This survey asks about time spent on the river, what activities they were doing, their expenses, nearby facilities available, their experience, potential changes to those experiences, and a little bit about themselves as well. Most people we talk to are very kind and willing to take the survey - especially if they're familiar with either organization.

      If I’m not working with another intern, I meet up with a Friends of the Teton River volunteer. This has been awesome for me in meeting locals and making connections. Rich is a volunteer for FTR - an older guy - helping me out on surveys. Because we are in the car for six hours together, getting to know each other sort of comes with the job. I’ve learned quite a bit about Rich and he’s a pretty darn cool guy. He’s been living in this region for a long time now - partly in Yellowstone, partly in Jackson and now in Driggs for 20 years or so. He gets around and honestly is doing life right: he has climbed the Grand Teton over twenty times (and over 80 other peaks in the Teton range); he floats the river at least once a week in the summer; he loves climbing so hits up nearby climbing walls every so often; and he still attends paddling classes, cross country skis, mountain bikes, and pretty much anything under the sun. In fact, we are climbing South Teton in about two weeks together!

    Rich is just an example of the incredible community in the area. Everyone is so inviting, excited to meet new people and always involved in the community. Once you meet someone new, they don’t just introduce themselves and move on, rather they invite you over for dinner, out floating with them, or in my case, they invite you to climb a mountain! Despite the large region which holds this close community, it sure is a small world out there on the river.