POWELL RANGER STATION, IDAHO — Hidden behind the tourist services of the Lochsa Lodge, the old Powell Ranger Station bustles with its own professional energy.
The spot seems like the middle of nowhere, but it bears lots of history. Nez Perce and other Indian tribes used it as waypoint on the route to buffalo prairies farther east. Lewis and Clark slept there. The Wild and Scenic Lochsa River muscles by on its thrust deep into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Built in 1925, the ranger station served for decades as the base for fire lookouts, “smoke-chasers” and trail crews working in the public lands along the Montana-Idaho border.
Counter-intuitively, it’s also conveniently placed among three national forest headquarters, with easy highway access and nearby airports. That seems out of character with its remote identity, but it makes it ideal for conferences, workshops and gatherings.
“We’re trying to maintain that community feel,” Lochsa-Powell District Ranger Brandon Knapton said. “If you don’t utilize it, it falls in disrepair.”
The ranger station complex has bunks for 75 people, plus lawn space for dozens more in tents. At the end of May, it was crowded with wilderness rangers getting refresher training, Montana Conservation Corps enrollees getting crew-leader classes, and a special class of experienced crosscut saw handlers studying for their journeyman certifications. It no longer has a resident pack string of mules, but retains its barns and corrals so it can put on packing courses.
While it doesn’t have a public campground, its visitor center provides a great display of history as well as information about how to play, hunt and explore its isolated surroundings.
“It’s a place for growing esprit de corps in people about to spend a lot of time out in the wilderness,” said Forest Service Wild and Scenic Rivers Program Director Jimmy Gaudry. “We’re blending what we used to do with new experiences from other regions.”