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Copyright © 2004 
Express Publishing Inc
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The Sun Valley Guide is distributed free twice yearly to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area communities.

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photos courtesy Blaine County Recreation District
photos courtesy Blaine County Recreation District


A Journey of Unparalleled Splendor
Traveling on the Harriman Trail


by Dick Dorworth

There are several trails in America named for Averell Harriman, the man who conceived and built Sun Valley, but none of them are as elaborately designed or follow such natural splendor as the Harriman Trail of the Wood River Valley. Begun in 1991 with a pledge from the Mary W. Harriman Foundation, the trail provides an 18-mile scenic corridor along the Big Wood River.

watercolor by E.B. PhillipsIt links the Sawtooth National Recreation Area headquarters at the North Fork of the Big Wood River to Galena Lodge and provides convenient access to a pristine landscape. Framed by the majestic Boulder Mountains to the north and east, the Harriman Trail provides biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, equestrian and wildlife viewing opportunities. One of the basic concepts of building the trail was to encourage people to enter a landscape and environment that they might never otherwise experience. To that end, the trail was designed for wheelchair access.

Winters are long and cold in central Idaho. The arrival of spring encourages bikers, hikers, walkers, bird and wildlife watchers, and people who simply want a scenic spot for an outdoor picnic, to head for the Harriman Trail. The Wood River Valley is famous throughout the world of mountain biking for the quality and quantity of its bike trails, and the trail is an integral part of this network. Since the Harriman Trail is completely graveled, early spring mountain bikers can avoid many of the mud problems associated with other trails in the area. Hikers and bikers alike can easily access the Big Wood River in several places and can rest at many benches, rest stops and interpretive sites along the trail.

The seasons of the Wood River Valley are as distinct and separate as anywhere on earth, and the red, yellow, gold and maroon colors of fall along the Big Wood River and in the surrounding mountains are wild and varied. From the high alpine flora at the northern end of the trail by Galena Lodge, to the meadows and willows and aspen and cottonwood near the North Fork of the Big Wood River, the Harriman Trail is an extravagant pathway through the best of nature’s artistry.

Sun Valley is famous throughout the world as a premier ski area. The Harriman Trail is the centerpiece of a Nordic skier’s mecca. One of the largest and most prestigious ski races in America, the annual Boulder Mountain Tour, starts at the Galena Lodge and covers the entire length of the trail, ending at the SNRA headquarters.

There are interpretive sites along the Harriman Trail to help visitors understand the environment and the natural history of the area. At kilometer 3 is the Big Wood River Fishery sign, dedicated to the late Jack Hemingway, conservationist, fisherman, author, Idaho Fish & Game commissioner and Wood River Valley resident. He was the son of author Ernest Hemingway. At this site one can learn about the elements of a healthy river habitat, what fish live in the Big Wood River, and the conditions in which they thrive. Hemingway, who was called “a fine man and a consummate fisherman,” once wrote: “I suddenly realized how wonderful it was to be alone wading a river. This was after all one of the true joys of fishing, the solitude which cleansed the mind of all its worldly burdens.”

At kilometer 8 is an interpretive site with a spectacular view of the Boulder Mountains across the valley. This site features information about the geology and mining history of the area. A painting by the late Florian Haemmerle is displayed. Haemmerle, a German immigrant to Sun Valley in the 1930s, was the first director of the Sun Valley backcountry ski school. He explored these mountains extensively and was one of the pioneers of Sun Valley skiing.

At kilometer 24 is the mountain goat interpretive site. There is a permanent spotting scope installed at the site for viewing these shy, elusive and hardy natives of the Boulder Mountains.

The Harriman Trail has many amenities for trail users. They include benches, the interpretive sites, location signs, bike racks, kilometer markers and other items. The public is invited and encouraged to become a sponsor of one of these items and/or to contribute to the Harriman Endowment Fund. It is anticipated that it will cost approximately $1 million over the next 10 years to maintain the Harriman Trail. Item sponsors will be recognized by a plaque or engraving placed on the sponsored item.

All the trail amenities—benches, interpretive sites, picnic benches, location signs and distance markers—are designed with an unobtrusive and tasteful blend of wood and stone to complement the natural setting.

The Harriman Trail is a small part of the incalculable legacy of Averell Harriman. Had he not founded Sun Valley, the Wood River Valley would be a vastly different place than it is now, and it is highly unlikely that any major ski area would have ever been built here. Harriman was a powerful and positive force in the international world of business, politics and statesmanship. He was U.S. ambassador to Russia, and adviser to presidents, the governor of New York and a major philanthropist. His sphere of influence extended far beyond Sun Valley, touching people throughout the world.

A significant partner in building the Harriman Trail was American stateswoman Pamela Churchill Hayward Harriman, who was married to Averell from 1971 until his death. Pamela was U.S. ambassador to France from 1993 until her death in 1997. She was instrumental in getting the funding to begin the trail. Her son, Winston S. Churchill, a grandson of the World War II Prime Minister of England, sponsored and dedicated the Baker Creek Bridge to his mother. Baker Creek was Pamela’s favorite place in the Wood River Valley. •


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