The Building Of Highway 12
& The Creation Of A White Water Mecca
The Lochsa Is God's Country!
Lochsa River Madness!
If you are new to Boise or thinking about moving to Boise Idaho, relocating to Meridian or anywhere near here the Lochsa is "Gods" country. I don't care if you are Buddist, Christian, Hindu or a Scientologist (is that a religion?), once your god see's The Lochsa he will claim it!
As a fourth generation Idahoan, my roots run deep in Idaho and nowhere have they had more time to sink into the soil than The Lochsa river drainage. One might assume it is because I am a rafter and it is a famous whitewater river that was made by nature and improved by man. It is one of Idaho’s classic white water runs that my connection starts there. But that is not the case. My family has been visiting the Lochsa country since long before there were road’s along the ridges or rafts on the river. Here is a little bit of my family’s history in the Lochsa country and then a reprint of an article written by Robert Campbell with some help from the USFS Clearwater website, it is a history of how Highway 12, the Lewis and Clark highway came to be. The highway now provides easy access for rafters, fisherman, hunters, historians and more! There are 3 world class hot springs, the trout fishing is sensational and the vistas are sublime. Several of the rapids will knock your socks off. Anyway I thought the well written article about why it took so long to build the highway was worth reprinting here! Enjoy the article and if you have a chance get up there and enjoy a rafting trip with Three Rivers Outfitters or have lunch at the Lochsa Lodge near Powell Ranger Station. Hike the trail around Colgate Lick. If there are no cars at the mouth of Weir Creek (around mp 143) which enters a mile upstream of Saddle Camp Road, hike the half mile to the hot springs and enjoy Idaho Primeval.
My Lochsa History
Sometime in the 1870s my family picked up what they had and landed amongst others from West Virginia on the plain high above the Clearwater river. The town, called Weippe is located near the spot that Lewis and Clark stumbled out of the Lolo trail. It was a traditional spot where the Nez Perce would meet to gather camas roots. Between Lewis and Clark and the highway's completion packers used the Lolo trail to get supplies to and from Montana. Later hunting parties who knew of the elk herds arrived, the most famous being the Carlin party of whom George Colgate was a member. God rest George and Walt's souls! As early as 1926 my grandfather began to visit the upper Lochsa. His father had been packing into Jerry Johnson and Colgate lick on horses for sometime prior to 1926. Back in those days elk only lived in pockets and were not ever present as they are today. There was a healthy herd on the Lochsa that used the mineral springs, both Jerry Johnson Hot Springs and Colgate Lick. Packing in on horses over the same trail that both Lewis and Clark and the Nez Perce before them used was an arduous affair even without 2 feet of snow. The river also held a lot of either salmon or steelhead in the fall. They would load up on elk and salted fish while there. It was a 50 mile one way trip and they would take 2-3 weeks to get there, hunt and fish, and get back. As a young lad I would accompany my grandparents on extended camping trips usually to the Lochsa. It was the highlight of my year. Whitehouse camp ground was my favorite as a little kid, the moose pond across the highway was a big draw at dusk. I ended up quitting little league baseball so I could go and explore, fish, swim, pick berries and hike this glorious country every summer. Later as a 14 year old I was allowed to go elk hunting and with the help of family and friends shot my first elk in the meadow behind Colgate Lick. I was hooked to say the least. My college years found me at the University of Idaho in Moscow. I drug a bunch of friends up there to camp and hunt with my dad and his friends and chase the elk. We had some wonderful hunting trips and shot a few elk in the process. I have so many great snap shots stored in my head from those days! My dad Ernie and his friend Jack would show up with way to much food and mountain of gear! In the spring we would go camp and “bear” hunt, but I do not recall shooting a bear until much later. That’s another story…. Later as a young man I returned at Memorial day for my first float on the river. I was guiding river trips by this time and was pretty sure I would kill it. I arrived with my open whitewater canoe and full floatation. I had a weak roll that luckily I did not need. Needless to say I was in a little over my head. Somehow I managed to stay upright. Thankfully the dependable rafters I was with flipped in Castle Creek Rapid for the third year in a row and I had a built in excuse to take out. I was whipped and yes they were dependable because they would go into the same hole (not on purpose) every year and flip every time.
As time has gone by I spend less time there than when I was young. Between kids, the call of hunting elk in the Frank Church River Of No Return Wilderness area and the decline in elk numbers on the Lochsa, I drifted.
The Lochsa is as beautiful as ever, these round topped buttes and timbered hillsides. Tamarack green and yellow. Western red cedars that were a 100 feet tall when Lewis and Clark walked by still choke the creek bottoms. Giant brush fields left over from the fires that raged from 1910 through the 1930's fed the elk for 50 years and turn the hillsides ablaze in October. My grandfather Walt could tell you about each fire, what year, how big. He knew this country like the back of his hand. His ashes are scattered there now. As are my dads. So tread lightly, no littering, They are watching. Need a side trip? I would encourage you to go, find the Sinque Hole and Smoking Place along the Lolo motor road or hike down to Post Office Lake, yes the fishing is worth the walk! My guess is the rapids are better now with the road than they would be if it was still a roadless corridor! Like the North Fork Of The Payette, the road tightened it up a bit! The Lochsa is full of history and abundance. An abundance of fish, rapids, wildlife and great camp spots. Grab your grand children and come and enjoy the mountains, valleys and river along the Lewis and Clark Highway, US 12
Rafting and what else?
Last year we left Boise on Friday at noon, by the time we got back on Sunday night at 10:30 we sat in the hot spring, ran the rapids, called in a turkey, picked morels and cooked dinner in the rain! That is lifestyle living Lochsa Style! Other times of year the fishing is great, you can walk in Lewis & Clarks footsteps or hear a wolf howl. It does not get much better than that!
What is there to do near us 12 Lochsa River, raft, hunt , horseback, snowmobile, hot spring , Huckleberry, morels, morel, turkey, elk, bear, cat
Selway, visit Lochsa Ranger season, Follow Lewis and Clark, Lolo Motorway, this concludes my keyword paragraph.
The Following Is Reprinted With Permission From Robert Campbells 6C Facebook Post!
U.S. Highway 12/ Lewis and Clark Highway
I am always curious and sometimes surprised why it took over 40 years to build and complete the Lewis and Clark Highway from Idaho to Montana. Recently while looking at some of the pictures of the road construction, I realized that I have may have a picture of my grandfather (Edward Campbell) working on this road in about 1919. What is even more interesting is - that in 1955 the final spark to get funding for the project to complete it was based on then recently passed Idaho legislation to make it a Toll Road. A Turnpike Association was even formed. Former Vice President Al Gore’s father the late Senator Gore from Tennessee was involved in securing the funding. Ultimately, Idaho and the project received about 4 million dollars and finished the road in 1962. As we all know the road never became a toll road. ;^) Apparently we (State of Idaho) did this same bait and switch thing again with the Federal government in the last 10 years when we had US Highway 12 widened.
THE LEWIS AND CLARK HIGHWAY US 12
During the mining days of the 1860's the people of Lewiston clamored for a road to Montana by way of the Lolo Trail. This route was impractical and the proposal was dropped.
A railroad was surveyed from Kooskia to Lolo in 1908 and 1909 and, although it was never built, out of this survey came the idea for a road following the same route. Anyone who would think of such a thing in 1908 had to be a dreamer. Who the dreamer was is unknown. The idea caught on around Kooskia and Kamiah but gained little headway until 1915 when the Forest Service investigated the proposal. I am unable to find a copy of the report and recommendations on this project, but they must have been favorable because in 1916 this road was designated a state highway and given the name of "The Lewis and Clark Highway".
Before 1919 there was a ferry crossing the Middle Fork just above Kooskia. It was replaced by a bridge in 1919. This was the first work done on the Lewis and Clark Highway. However, prior to 1919 there was a wagon road built by settlers up the Middle Fork as far as Smith Creek.
In 1920 a narrow road was built to Pete King Ranger Station. It was nine feet wide and was reconstructed twice before the highway was finally completed.
Up to this time, interest in the highway was pretty much confined to the people of the Kooskia and Kamiah localities and the Forest Service. But the use of cars and trucks was expanding rapidly and increased the need for through highways. Wider interest in a road from Lewiston east soon developed and that city got into the act in 1921. In December of that year the Lewis and Clark Highway Association was organized with headquarters at Lewiston.
Mr. Seaburg was its head man, but Mark Means also took a very active part. The first meeting of this association was at Lewiston in January 1922 and was attended by representatives of Chambers of Commerce and other organizations from as far away as Missoula.
The Lewiston meeting was followed by another Chamber of Commerce meeting in Missoula. At this meeting Governor Dixon was the speaker. His talk was a big boost to the highway; he covered the need for the highway and announced Montana's approval and support of the project.
With all the support and enthusiasm that had been generated it appeared that the highway could soon be built. In 1923 the survey was extended beyond Boulder Ranger Station. A river crossing was planned near Old Man Creek and another near the present Lochsa Ranger Station. The decision to move the Ranger Station from Boulder Creek to the present site of the Lochsa Work Center was partly based on the assumption that there would be a bridge across the Lochsa at this point. The highway was extended to Deadman Creek in 1923; it was a narrow road that was later reconstructed.
In 1924 Grangeville and the Northwest Mining Association opposed further expenditures on the Lewis and Clark Highway until a water grade road was built to Elk City. However, the road was extended to Bimerick Creek. This section was also reconstructed later.
In 1925 it was decided to build a road from the east to Powell Ranger Station before doing any more work on the western end. The road reached Powell in 1928. It was a low quality road that was later rebuilt, although parts of the old road were used.
In 1929 the State Highway Department yielded to pressure to place money on other roads ahead of the Lewis and Clark Highway. At this time the attitude of the Forest Service changed. With the antagonistic attitude of the Forest Service and only local support in Idaho, money for this project was not forthcoming. The ends of the road stayed at Bimerick Creek and Powell Ranger Station from 1928 to 1941.
There was some work accomplished during this period, but compared with the total job it seemed small indeed. An aerial road survey was made of the route in 1931. It was the first such survey in the U.S.A. The state did the best it could by using convict labor starting in 1935. A camp was built at the mouth of Canyon Creek and prisoners were employed in widening the road that had previously been constructed. A narrow road was built to Wild Horse Creek. This camp was later used to house Japanese internees who also worked on the road. But prisoner work was not very effective, mainly because not enough heavy equipment was available.
Times changed. The Forest Service again became favorable to the project, partly due to pressure from the public, but mainly because the road was needed for National Forest Administration. In 1941 the Regional Forester stated that he favored the road. That summer the Bureau of Public Roads surveyed the entire project. The Forest Service furnished the packers and pack stock.
Considerable pressure was continually exerted by the Lewis and Clark Highway Association to get the highway through. At one time it was proposed to punch a low-grade road through with a bulldozer under the theory that the traveling public would demand that the road be brought up to standard. The Forest Service strenuously opposed such a move. Regional Forester P.D. Hanson publicly went on record against such a proposal at a meeting in Lewiston in 1945. He contended that such a road would be unsafe and a waste of money. The Idaho State Highway Board agreed.
By 1948 funds were available and construction was resumed at the rate of two or three miles per year. This was not fast enough to satisfy interested parties, so all sorts of publicity stunts were used to call attention to the need for a speeded-up program. As an example, in 1952 a party headed by Harold Coe of Clarkston hiked through the unfinished section through the Lochsa Canyon. They were not woodsmen and in some places lost the old trail and had to beach it over the rocks along the river. It took them four days and some members of the party were exhausted.
In 1955 the Idaho Legislature passed a law which made a toll road legally permissible. Thereafter, a group known as the Turnpike Association was organized to study the possibility of completing the remaining section as a toll road. A study was made but was reported unfavorable.
In 1957, a trek through the canyon was organized, culminating with a meeting at Boulder Flat. The old trail along the river had not been repaired after the heavy damage caused by the 1948 flood. It was not practical to ride through all the canyon. The party went down the river to the cable bridge, then over Mocus Point and down Boulder Creek. It was an enthusiastic meeting attended by about two thousand people.
In the fall of 1957, a U.S. Senate investigation was held at Lewiston by Senator Gore from Tennessee. The Lewis and Clark Highway received such support that the legislature appropriated four million dollars to complete the road. There really was no need for further publicity but another trek through the Lochsa was conducted in 1958. It was a lot of fun, but the goal had been reached and the trek and meeting were pointless. There were proposals to have another trek in 1959, but I told them that I would not accompany them. I had walked and rode over the route several times and from then on I was going to ride in a car.
In October 1959, U.S. Senator Dworshak of Idaho was escorted through the uncompleted section of the road in a four-wheel drive vehicle supplied by the Triangle Construction Company which opened up the last section of the highway. I rode through with the Senator. Similar vehicles had gone through as early as July 1959.
In 1960 the section from Powell to Lolo Pass was widened, straightened and oiled and some minor improvements were made in 1961 and 1962.
In 1962 the road was completed and a big dedication ceremony held at Packer Meadows. About ten thousand people were present including such dignitaries as Forest Supervisor Ralph Space, Regional Forester Boyd Rassmussen, Chief Forester Edward Cliff, Governor Babcock of Montana, Governor Smylie of Idaho, Senator Church of Idaho and Senator Gore from Tennessee who was the main speaker. Ray McNichols of Orofino served as master of ceremonies and the two governors sawed a log in two instead of cutting the usual ribbon.
Construction of Lewis and Clark Highway by Years
1919 Bridge built across the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River.
1920 Road built from Kooskia to Lowell.
1923 Road built from Lowell to Deadman Creek.
1924 Road built from Deadman to Bimerick.
1925 Eastern end built to Crooked Creek.
1926 Crooked Creek to four miles east of Powell Ranger Station.
1927 Crooked Creek bridge built.
1928 Road completed to Powell Ranger Station.
1930 Preliminary survey of entire route.
1931 Aerial survey made of proposed route.
1935 Middle Fork of Clearwater Bridge built.
1941 Complete survey of entire route.
1941 Western end extended from Bimerick to Wildhorse Creek.
1948 Road built from Powell Ranger Station to Papoose Creek.
1950 West end extended from Wildhorse to Beaver Flat.
1951 West end extended to Fish Creek.
1951 East end extended to Wendover Creek.
1953 East end built to Squaw Creek.
1954 West end constructed to Five Islands.
1955 West end built from Five Islands to Bald Mt. Creek.
1956 West end extended from Bald Mt. Creek to Stanley Creek.
1956 East end built from Squaw Creek to Warm Springs Creek.
1957 Road oiled from Kooskia to Syringa.
1958 Section built from Stanley Creek to Eagle Mt. Creek. The section near Old Man Creek widened.
1958-59 From Syringa to Pete King widened and oiled.
1958-60 From Colgate to Eagle Mt. Creek constructed. Closed the gap.
1959-60 The section from Powell to Lolo Pass widened
1962 In August Highway officially opened and dedicate