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School endowment: Some canyon jump cash is already in hand

The state has $943,000 in hand from a Texas event promoter who wants to attempt a leap across the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls.

And the state will try to hang onto the money — even if the stunt never gets off the ground.

Before jumping into discussion of a complex exchange of lakeside cabin sites for Idaho Falls office properties, the state Land Board held a brief and often tongue-in-cheek discussion of the canyon stunt.

The state has a stake in the jump, because the landing site on the north side of the Snake River sits on state endowment land. Idaho public schools have a direct financial stake, since proceeds from this land lease will go exclusively to K-12.

'Big Ed' Beckley
‘Big Ed’ Beckley

At a Sept. 27 auction, promoter “Big Ed” Beckley made a $943,000 “bonus bid” that secures the rights to stage the event, outbidding four other suitors.

The $943,000 does not include other components of the deal: a $25,000 a year lease of the landing site, an agreement to pay the state a 3 percent share of TV rights, and a clause guaranteeing the state a 5 percent share of other proceeds. All of these proceeds also go to K-12.

Beckley has paid the $943,000, Lands Department Director Tom Schultz told Land Board members.

But that doesn’t mean Beckley is done working his way through government red tape. He still needs to secure the rights to use the launch site — on the south side of the canyon, and under the city of Twin Falls’ jurisdiction. The city’s deadline for applications is Oct. 18.

What happens if Beckley can’t come to terms with the city?

The Lands Department says there is nothing in its lease that requires the return of the $943,000.

“That’s our story and we’re sticking to it,” remarked Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.

Gov. Butch Otter voiced skepticism, wondering if the state really will be able to hold onto the money if the launch is a no-go.

But the discussion of the leap, modeled after Evel Knievel’s 1974 failed canyon jump, was not without its light moments. Some of it centered on Beckley — who describes himself as the “world’s largest motorcycle stuntman.”

The 60-year-old Beckley plans to make the jump, Lands Department director Tom Schultz said. Beckley is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 282 pounds, but weighed 385 pounds 18 months ago, Schultz said.

“Mr. Beckley and I go to the same dietitian, evidently,” said Ysursa. “I think we may need a Saturn rocket to get him across.”

More reading: For an old-school journalist’s take on how the original canyon leap went down, here’s a column from Barrett Rainey at Ridenbaugh Press.

Kevin Richert is a reporter and blogger at Idaho Education News (idahoednews.org). Kevin is a former Statesman editorial page editor, with 27 year's experience in Idaho journalism.

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