As the most iconic stretch of the Henry’s Fork, the Harriman reach or “the Ranch” is near and dear to many anglers’ hearts. These 8 river miles are surrounded by Harriman State Park (HSP), a former private cattle ranch gifted to the state of Idaho in 1961 and fully transferred in 1977 by the Harriman family. Permittees still graze cattle in the park and the Henry’s Fork Foundation (HFF) established a riparian fencing program in 1984 to help protect the banks of the river from erosion. Over 30 years later, conservation work conducted by HFF, Harriman State Park, the Friends of Harriman State Park (FHSP), grazing permittees, and volunteers continues to protect this famed stretch of river.
The first of these is HFF’s fencing program. Beginning at the very start of HFF’s history in 1984, the riparian fencing program has grown and evolved over time, but centers on 3 miles of fence that HFF monitors each year (1.5 miles at Wood Road 16 and 1.5 miles across from Last Chance). In late spring, HFF puts up the two sections of barbed wire fence and in late fall, once cattle are no longer grazing in the park, staff return to lay the fence back down for the winter.
This fencing program gave the banks of the Henry’s Fork time to recover, but an increase in reports of cattle in the river in 2015 led HFF to revisit our fencing plan. After meeting with HSP managers and a half dozen grazing permittees, a partnership was formed with a commitment to rebuild sections of fence inside the park and to designate an intern to the continued monitoring of fence line in crucial summer and fall months. The hope was that more frequent monitoring would prevent cattle from getting into the river and, by walking the fence line two or three times per week, our fencing intern has greatly reduced the number of calls received about cattle in the river.
In the summer of 2016, HFF also partnered with HSP, grazing permittees, and nearly 30 volunteers to rebuild 6 miles of fence line from the LogJam/Bing Lempke parking lot to Osborne Bridge. The new fence primarily consisted of 3 and 4-strand barbed wire fence, but also included a number of wildlife-friendly sections to relieve pressure on certain lengths of fence line that were heavily used as crossing points for elk and deer.
In addition to these barbed wire sections, Harriman State Park has an iconic jack fence along its border with Highway 20. From the early days of the Railroad Ranch, the historic jack fence has served as a landmark, the gateway to the Island Park area. Originally used for its practical style over lava rock terrain, the jack fence has taken on its own character and has become a part of the community itself. The Railroad Ranch jack fence has served as a familiar sight to visitors and the community for more than 100 years.
With depleting park budgets, the fence began to show its age. To preserve the landmark jack fence, Friends of Harriman State Park in cooperation with Harriman State Park, created the “Buy-A-Buck” campaign. People were able to purchase a buck (one section of jack fence) for $100 and have their name branded on it to signify support for this heritage. Thanks to generous community support through financial contribution and volunteerism, the last build phase was completed on September 23rd, 2015.
Inside Harriman State Park, the FHSP are leading an effort to restore the historic stock bridge. Originally built in 1921 by Island Park Land and Cattle Company ranch hands, the bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In fact, rails from E.H. Harriman’s Union Pacific Railroad were placed on the upstream side of the bridge to protect the piers from ice jams and debris, and may be a significant reason why the bridge still stands 96 years later. Recently closed by the Park, the bridge needs help and plans led by FHSP are under way to secure its future.
Finally, the first phase of the Harriman Canal restoration project is now complete! Concerns about a leaky canal and degraded/eroded/braided angler access trail south of the Logjam initiated the project. The fencing work described earlier kicked off the project and helped to protect both the canal banks and the wet sections of the trail. A coordinated effort by HSP and HFF, heavily assisted by Forsgren and Associates of Rexburg, Idaho led to 400 yards of material trucked in to rebuild the west side of the canal, plug holes, and properly convey water to either irrigated pastures or back into the Henry’s Fork. Much of the old canal bank reminded everyone of walking on a water-bed!
An investigation of the diversion structure indicated that with proper maintenance that HSP could continue to utilize existing gates. The original project also called for a fish screen. Between a lack of elevation fall and the large volumes of diversion water (35 cfs) the practicality and cost of a fish screen did not make sense in the short or long term. Monitoring and management of fish in the canal will be undertaken by HSP and HFF to ensure that Harriman Canal does not have a negative impact on the trout population. Initial plans also called for a rebuild of the angler trails leading from the observation deck. Thankfully, the canal repair has dried out the existing trails and alleviated much of the trail erosion problem. HSP and HFF staff will continue to monitor this and other projects in and around the historic Harriman reach and make future recommendations for the benefit of both the Henry’s Fork and Harriman State Park’s natural resources.