President Jimmy Carter’s Middle Fork Trip

jimmy carter middle fork salmon

Jimmy Carter on the sweep boat. Public domain photo.

On August 22, 1978 President Jimmy Carter and his family took Marine One from Boise to Indian Creek Airstrip. This would be the start of their Middle Fork of the Salmon river trip. Being 70 miles from the confluence, they had long mileage days the whole way through. Below is their itinerary, with the official daily diary of the president included. Select quotes from interviews during that time are mixed in and linked to the original articles.

Day zero: August 21, 1978.

The day before the family’s arrival the Secret Service made preparations in the river corridor.

“They were such nice men,” said 73-year-old Audrey Hill, who lives in a cabin with a large, wood-fired stove, of the advance men. “I told them there’d always be some peanut butter cookies and a pot of hot coffee here if the president wants to visit.”

Her husband, Eli Hill, 62, said he had chatted with the Secret Service about the campers and other rafter who may be in the area when Carter is.

“They wanted to put an agent at every campsite,” an awed Hill said. “I said, ‘That’s fine.’ I asked them, ‘What about the backpackers? There are lots of them wandering through the mountain and what are you going to do about them?” ”

The Secret Service man didn’t look too happy. ‘We don’t want any people popping up suddenly behind rocks,’ he said.”

-Washington Post “The Traveling White House Descends on Idaho Solitude” (Link)

Day one: August 22, 1978.

Indian Creek to Lower Grouse

President Carter and his family loaded up on a sweep boat and floated to the Middle Fork Lodge, where they spent 30 minutes having cinnamon rolls, and coffee and they did a photo with the staff. Then they floated to Whitie Cox where they had a late lunch at nearly 2PM. From here they floated to Lower Grouse and landed at 5:24 PM.

jimmy carter daily diary

Day two: August 23, 1978.

Grouse Creek to Elk Bar

The daily diary was short, which was captured well in the below quote. The most excitement was generated shortly after pushing off from Lower Grouse, when the sweep boat driver broke a sweep going over Tappan Falls (imagine having that in the official record) and they spent approximately an hour repairing it. With lunch at Wilson Creek, they then made it to Elk Bar by 5pm.

President Carter continued his slow journey through the Idaho wilderness yesterday, coming about as close as a president could ever come to genuine peace and quiet.

There were no handshakes, dignitaries to greet or protocol observed as the president, his family and a few friends floated gently down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River here. Security, while thorough, was low-keyed. Reporters, though on the river with him, were kept miles behind except for one or two token contacts with the presidential party.

The only sound at his campsite as he slept was the rush of the river.

The only comment he gave during the first two days of his trip was “how nice” it was not to have to make any comments.

Washington Post “Carters Find Peace, Quiet in Idaho Wilderness” (Link)

Day three: August 24, 1978.

Elk Bar to the Main Salmon confluence

With a stop at Nugget Creek to look at Earl Parrott’s cabin, and then lunch at Otter Bar, the trip was nearing the finish line. Not before plenty of fish were caught though, with the President landing 59 trout before takeout. In Jimmy Carter’s book “A Call to Action” he reflected that it was on this trip that his wife, Rosalynn, became interested in fly fishing. After the trip, she would practice her cast at Camp David, and eventually, fly fishing would become a lifelong passion.

At the confluence, they were driven to Colson Creek Meadow. From there, they boarded Marine One and flew to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, concluding their Middle Fork trip.

Central Idaho Wilderness Act

The story doesn’t end at the Main Salmon confluence. Just under two years after his trip, President Jimmy Carter signed the Central Idaho Wilderness Act on July 23, 1980, which protected the Middle Fork of the Salmon and much of the surrounding area. It was the largest protected area in the lower 48. Four years later, in honor of the late Senator Frank Church, the wilderness would be renamed the Frank Church—River of No Return Wilderness Area.

Photos of the trip

From left to right: Cliff Blake, Middle Fork District Ranger; Mike Schulte, Kayak Patrol; Al Carroway, Law Enforcement; President Jimmy Carter; Ted Anderson, River Ranger; Judy Clapp, Kayak Patrol. Source: Salmon-Challis National Forest. Link.

Source: Associated Press