Jim Campbell (left) and Buckskin Bill on the Salmon, 1980, shortly before Bill's death/Judy Lemmon
The river guide and travel business in Central Idaho's River of No Return-Frank Church Wilderness seems as though it has been around forever, but floating and guest ranch activity is actually fairly young as a major tourist business. It kicked into high gear in the 70s when a number of central players figured out how to make it work in a very effective way. With float permits in Hells Canyon, the Middle Fork, Main Salmon, Owyhee and Lochsa rivers, the Wild Rivers Idaho business that Jim Campbell created and developed was one of the handful of businesses that contributed to building float trips into a mainstay.
Campbell was a researcher at what is now Idaho National Laboratory in the 60s before the backcountry drew him in. With two of his work associates, he started river trips which grew into operations in river running and resort ranches, and those were among the central activities in turning the region into such a popular visiting location. With his love of the country and its history he gathered a group of premier river guides outfitter/ranchers who taught him the back country history. (Two of the people in that group were Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley, who went on to tell those stories in a series of books about that area.) Few guests departed the rivers or Shepp Ranch without an appreciation of those who originally settled that rugged, inaccessible area.
After selling Shepp Ranch, Jim moved across the river to the Polly Bemis property where he built what he'd planned as a retirement home - but retirement was not on his agenda, and he began the development that became the Polly Bemis Resort. He left the backcountry in the 90s, and spent time after that in Las Vegas and Phoenix before settling, in this decade, in Costa Rica. He died there this week.
Linda Watkins, who spent time with Campbell in the backcountry in the 70s and 80s, has a recollection.
It's hard to know where to start, or what to say about Jim Campell's death last Thursday. He's been a part of my life for over three decades (more than 2/3 of my life) - in some ways, more of a family member than most of my own blood relations. I think of his death as I did of my father's: Relief that he's finally free of the pain and frustration at growing old that he's lived with for the last several years. (more…)