Voices from the River: Worth the effort

Cassi Wood, left, with Trout Unlimited Government Affairs staffers Rob Catalanotto and Kate Miller. Trout Unlimited photo.

By Cassi Wood 

For some folks, it is home. Others are called to visit there with a little regularity; particularly if their work orbits political atmospheres. Some of the rest of us, however, have passed 33 years without having had a need or a burning desire to pencil a Washington, D.C., trip into our travel calendars. Not that it isn’t a worthy destination. I just normally rank fishing trips to Yellowstone higher than visits to museums.  

Late last year, I got that call. “We’d really like you to go to D.C. Can you do it?”   

I have had the great pleasure of working as part of a collaborative effort to fix broken fish habitat in the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. The many partners include the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Trout Unlimited, Bonneville Power Administration, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Idaho Fish and Game, Idaho Governor's Office of Species Conservation, J.R. Simplot Company, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Partners on the Yankee Fork Project pose with the Chief's Honor Award at the ceremony in Washington, D.C. Trout Unlimited photo.

Our work cleaning up dredge-mine tailings since 2009 had gained enough notoriety that the U.S. Forest Service decided to recognize the effort with a 2017 Chief’s Honor Award. We were told it was very important, and as many award recipients as possible make the trek to our nation’s capital to attend the formal awards ceremony, presided over by Chief Tony Tooke. 

The Yankee Fork, a tributary to the Salmon RIver in central Idaho. Trout Unlimited photo.

So, why am I telling you this? Honestly, I thought others might get some sort of amusement out of learning how a small-town, Idaho gal’s first trip to Washington, D.C., went.  

Once you string together the required amount of driving and multiple flight departures from progressively larger airports to get there from rural Idaho, you might as well be going to South America. Ladies, you will appreciate thisI received a full TSA inspection (pat-down and all) after a chemical swabbing of my hands indicated I’d recently handled something potentially explosiveI suspect hairspray. After determining the only threat posed was to my dignity, I was allowed to continue my travels and I fortunately made it to D.C. without further incident. Or embarrassment. 

I spent the next couple days dashing back and forth between Arlington, Va., (where the home office of Trout Unlimited is based) and D.C. I was introduced to TU’s great staff at headquarters and then attended the ceremony. I prepped to meet with Idaho’s Congressional delegates and thank them for their support of the various things at the national political level that have made it possible for TU and our partners to restore fish habitat in Idaho.  

I managed to find a spare 30 minutes between meetings to swing into the Library of Congress. Having already passed through a record-number of metal detectors that day, I was caught by surprise when a Capitol security guard asked, “Hey, what’s that pin you’re wearing?" 

I looked down at my Trout Unlimited lapel pin.  

“Huh? Oh. Trout Unlimited. That’s who I work for.”  

The guard revealed a look of confusion, so I delivered a brief explanation of what TU’s all about.  

Oh that’s cool; I love fishing. Hope to come out West someday. Can I have your pin?”  

Now I was confused. But not in the habit of saying no to law enforcement, I obliged, and the smiling guard invited me behind some ropes sectioning off his metal detector monitor to show me a very impressive collection of lapel pins, all shapes and sizes, that he and another guard had been working on for some time.  

Cassi Wood generously donated her Trout Unlimited pin to a collection started by security officers at the Library of Congress. Ask to see it if you find yourself there. Trout Unlimited photo.

We visited for some 15 more minutes like we were long lost friends. I got a really cool Capitol Police patch out of the deal and finally departed the Library of Congress with having barely glimpsed it’s architectural splendor. There was something really comforting in having shared something like that with a total stranger in place that’s strange to me. Perhaps if you find yourself visiting the Library of Congress, consider mentioning to the guards manning the metal detector that you’ve heard of a mysterious lapel pin collection that you’d really like so see. 

When the pomp of the ceremony was over and all my other work objectives met, I had all of about seven hours over a Friday afternoon and evening to hit as many of the Smithsonian museums as I could and walk to and every major D.C. memorial and monument. I got blisters—big ones—and I’m no slouch when it comes to foot-powered travel. I have been called ‘Billy Goat’ on occasion. I now, however, believe too much concrete might be the silent killer of feet.  

The Fix

"The Fix" video highlights the Yankee Fork project.

Back home in Idaho, having returned to my usual levels of exposure to dirt, mountains and sunshine, I ask myself if the trip to D.C. was worth all the effort? I had been pleasantly surprised at finding commonalities with strangers the brief time that I was there. I also distinctly remember seeing my fellow river-restoration-partners standing in the lobby of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Building. We all smiled at seeing each other’s familiar faces in the foreign landscape so distinctly different than the mountains of Idaho. 

I’m compelled to say yes, it was absolutely worth the trip. I now feel connected with my fellow countrymen on the opposite side of our nation. It truly was an honor to stand by the sides of my partners, sharing being recognized for our hard work conserving fish habitat and results than can only be achieved through collaborating with each other.  

The museums weren’t bad either. 

Cassi Wood works as the Central Idaho Project Leader out of Mackay. She prefers work boots over dress shoes. The blisters earned in D.C. are almost healed. 

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