Letters From the West

Old Painter Mine on Salmon River headed for public ownership

The Painter Mine property lies on the banks of the Salmon River in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

The Painter Mine property lies on the banks of the Salmon River in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

A nonprofit group has purchased the Painter Mine on the banks of the Salmon River deep within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

The 38-acre old mine site sits just upstream of the famous Buckskin Bill Cabin on the river that attracts thousands of boaters annually. Eventually the Wilderness Land Trust, based in Colorado and California, intends to sell the land to the federal government for protection in the wilderness.

The mine was sold by Mike Wilson, of Vancouver, Wash., the last in a line of owners since the Jersey Creek Bar was claimed for mining by Edward Oscar Eakin in the early 1900s.

John R. Painter bought the property in 1908 and built a hunting lodge on it, according to the book “Spirits of the Salmon River” by Kathy Deinhardt. Later, with DuPont investment, he built a mill for processing gold ore. Others continued mining with no long-term success.

“The Painter Mine has a fascinating history of the people who worked
on the mine long ago.” Wilson said. “We’re happy to see the land return to public ownership for the enjoyment of all.”

The Trust will spend the next two years cleaning up the property and eliminating major safety hazards before transferring it, said David Kirk, Idaho lead for the Trust.

“I am excited that boaters will now be able to stop and enjoy the shaded shoreline, experience the property’s mining history and hike to the rock outcroppings overlooking the Salmon River,” Kirk said.

The Wilderness Land Trust, founded in 1992, has preserved 409 parcels comprised of more than 41,000 acres of wilderness inholdings in 90 designated and proposed wilderness areas.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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