Idaho backcountry access in spotlight

Pilots urged to limit use of Big Creek airstrips

May 7, 2012

Aviation advocates in Idaho want pilots to scale back the use of four backcountry airstrips designated as emergency airfields under a federal wildlife area management plan.

The Idaho Aviation Association cautioned pilots that recent increased use—some of it documented in videos posted on the Internet—has gone beyond a verbal understanding that occasional activity would be acceptable at the “Big Creek Four” strips inside the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

The four strips are the Vines, Dewey Moore, Simonds, and Mile Hi airstrips—all within the boundaries of a wild region described as the largest single wilderness area in the Lower 48 states.
AOPA is working with the Idaho Aviation Association and the Recreational Aviation Foundation to protect access to the backcountry airstrips in Idaho and beyond, and urges pilots to abide by the Idaho Aviation Association’s guidance.

“The point is, the Big Creek Four are notthe same as all the other strips in the backcountry,” wrote Idaho Aviation Association President Jim Davies in a newsletter article posted on the organization’s website. “Recent increased usage, including by large gatherings, many documented on YouTube, have highlighted the Big Creek 4 to the Forest Service and they are concerned that we are not honoring the agreement. Until there can be a legal challenge to their status or a new Resource Management Plan can be written there are limitations on the use of these strips, and it is our goal, for now, to do what is necessary to maintain the status allowing sporadic use.”

In 2004, AOPA took “strong exception” to the Forest Service’s assertions that the strips were unsafe, and urged that user input be solicited during the development of policy.

AOPA pointed out in a Jan. 29, 2004, letter to the Forest Service that official estimates contained in the 2003 final environmental impact statement of the importance of the strip to pilots were “greatly understated.” The association pursued the issue of backcountry airfield access later that year with the state’s congressional delegation.

The Idaho Aviation Association has no interest in policing the backcountry, wrote Davies—but the organization supports what he called safe and ethical flying under existing restrictions.

“We are asking visitors and locals to be sensitive to the limitations placed on the Big Creek 4 by limiting operations at those strips to occasional and necessary use,” he wrote. “In particular, please avoid the urge to have multi-airplane rendezvous at these strips or to have round robin or multiple landing group activities there. The allure of challenging our equipment and ourselves is evident but, as in so many things, moderation is the key.”