Words of Stahl Portfolio

Listen to the river (Idaho Mountain Express newspaper)

Idaho Mountain Express water essayGreg Stahl, writer and assistant policy director for Idaho Rivers United, discusses the limits of the West’s most precious natural resource.

The summer view from atop Bald Mountain tells the story about the West’s most valuable natural resource. Ribbons of verdant cottonwood trees weave along the valley floor, surrounded by grids of homes and ornamental vegetation pockets and parks. The green valley provides a sharp contrast to the surrounding brown hillsides—a disparity that is the story of water in the West.

“Desert, semi-desert, call it what you will. The point is that despite heroic efforts and many billions of dollars, all we have managed to do in the arid West is turn a Missouri-size section green—and that conversion has been wrought mainly with nonrenewable groundwater,” writes Marc Reisner in his landmark examination of Western water use, Cadillac Desert—The American West and Its Disappearing Water.

Idaho’s streams and rivers are veins and arteries that pump through a parched landscape and give life to its people and creatures. Half of Idaho’s resident birds use rivers for nesting, and riparian areas are home to 70 percent of all plants and animals in arid parts of the state like the Wood River Valley. But water is as crucial to Idaho’s people as it is to its prodigious natural landscape.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants named Idaho’s top magazine feature of 2012

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. Greg Stahl. Idaho Press Club awards.The Sawtooth National Recreation Area of central Idaho is widely considered the Gem State’s crown jewel. On Friday, May 18, the Idaho Press Club honored the story, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants,  as Idaho’s top magazine feature of 2012. The story chronicles the men and women who created the SNRA.

To date, Greg Stahl has been honored 53 times by state, regional and national journalism organizations, and this recent accolade constitutes his fourth such recognition for magazine writing. Meanwhile, the same issue of Sun Valley Guide helped the magazine achieve top honors for the state’s best magazine.

By way of further background, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area is widely considered the Gem State’s crown jewel, and the story is told on the management area’s 40th birthday. It is a unique composite of more than 40 peaks over 10,000 feet in elevation, picturesque valleys, high alpine lakes, forests and free-flowing rivers. It is home to 327 fish and mammal species, including reintroduced gray wolves, endangered salmon, mountain goats, lynx, mountain lions and wolverines.

Sawtooth Salmon Festival website (Idaho Rivers United)

Sawtooth Salmon Festival website. By Greg Stahl.Each summer, salmon and steelhead travel from the Pacific Ocean to the high elevation spawning habitat of central Idaho, 900 miles inland and nearly 7,000 feet above sea-level. Every summer, Idaho Rivers United hosts a celebration of  these miraculous fish in Stanley, Idaho.

While I work every year to pull the Sawtooth Salmon Festival together, I have also made great strides to give this incredible annual event better visibility on the internet. In the winter of 2013, I set out to rebuild the event website from the bottom up, and that included drafting new search engine optimized copy, selecting and editing photographs, implementing a database-driven WordPress website and building the site’s core architecture.

Snow Sense (Sun Valley Guide magazine)

Sun Valley Guide winter 2012. Snow Sense. Greg Stahl.

Sun Valley Guide. Snow Sense. Greg Stahl.Every fall for 45 years, Rich Bingham has looked to the skies over Sun Valley in anticipation. As days grow short and trees turn gold, his excitement mounts.

There’s a palpable and understated inevitability to the arrival of winter in the mountains. The cycle of the seasons dictates life here, and no single season is as synonymous with Sun Valley as winter. Snowflakes have been changing lives in Sun Valley since the resort was founded 76 years ago. “I started getting excited a month ago,” Bingham said in early October. “I’ve been doing it so long I’ve learned to be patient, but I’m definitely thinking about another winter on Baldy.”

Bingham has worked on the Sun Valley Ski Patrol since fall 1967. As snow safety department director, his responsibilities include weather and avalanche forecasting, and avalanche control on Bald Mountain, so he’s always got an eye trained on the sky. He’s learned not to get uptight about Mother Nature’s fickle sensibilities. Sometimes it snows, sometimes it doesn’t. But when the jet stream drops out of Canada and begins pumping swirling masses of Pacific-born moisture into the Rocky Mountains, his demeanor changes as he prepares for another winter on what he describes as “a special mountain.”

Plentiful snow equals excellent skiing and snowboarding, but it also means improved spring runoff, and green, healthy forests in the summer. And each falling snowflake translates directly into improved financial vitality for the communities nestled at Bald Mountain’s base.

From its celebrated founding to present day, Sun Valley Resort has been dependent on snowy winter seasons. In a world in which climate patterns are increasingly erratic—exemplified by super storms like October’s Hurricane Sandy, heightened Western wildfire seasons and the historic April 2011 outbreak of tornadoes in the Southeast—most climate scientists agree that change is afoot. What it means for weather-dependent communities and resorts, however, is a plot yet to be completely written. “Long-term trends are kind of all over the place,” Bingham said. “With the influences changing so much, with the arctic oscillation and sea ice and temperatures—the weather is less predictable, with stronger and more erratic storms when they do happen.”

  • Click here to read more of this 2,500-word feature about the tradition of snow in central Idaho–and what climate change could mean for the future of skiing.

The Snow Inside Me (Amazon Kindle)

The Snow Inside Me cover. Greg Stahl. Amazon Kindle.In a fraction of a second at 5:05 p.m. on January 7, 1984, the sleepy Appalachian berg of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania lost a promise: one boy gone, another left behind and the rearranged topography of a moment frozen in time.

Verse and vision combine in The Snow Inside Me, a thought-provoking six-part memoir about a man’s unknowing journey to overcome a long-ago winter day. Stemming the mountains of Pennsylvania, Colorado, Idaho and the unspoiled vastness in between, the story is equal parts poetry, meditation and forward-driving narrative and incorporates the landscape as a powerful character of its own. It’s a tale of fear and courage, friendship and loss, misfortune and adventure. And, ultimately, it’s a story about love.

  • Click here to buy Part 1 of The Snow Inside Me at Amazon.

Author publicity (Idaho Rivers United)

Steven Hawley, Recovering a Lost River book tour. Photo by Greg Stahl.Published by Boston-based Beacon Press in March 2011, Recovering a Lost River is author Steven Hawley’s first book, a volume that chronicles the Pacific Northwest’s politics, economics, ecology and culture. And it’s a book that centers significantly on the state of Idaho.

Since the book’s publication, I’ve organized eight speaking engagements and readings for Hawley that included Boise, Sun Valley, Stanley, Salmon, McCall, Moscow and Coeur d’Alene. That work involved booking venues, generating advanced publicity, ordering books, delivering introductory speeches and introducing the author. And, along the way, it involved making a friend in this smart, well-researched and witty author.

To be sure, mine was merely a role of marketing, publicity and event planning. But it was rewarding to be charged with helping bring attention to a talented up-and-coming author and work of nonfiction that has significance and implications for the residents of the Pacific Northwest.

Growing With the Flow (Idaho Rivers United)

Growing With the Flow. Greg Stahl editing

Greg Stahl editing. Growing With the Flow book.Throughout parts of 2011 and 2012 I worked as Editor in Chief of a 109-page collection of short stories and poetry titled Growing With the Flow, published by Idaho Rivers United in September 2012.

As project lead, I solicited and edited stories, managed the editing process and designed the book’s cover (as well as contributed a work of fiction set in the city of Salmon, Idaho). I also headed distribution and publicity.

As with any collaborative project, the collection is the sum of the efforts of its contributors, and there were many. Notably, IRU member Bob Finkbine gave birth to the idea and rallied to make it happen. His expertise from publishing a number of works was invaluable to the process. Also importantly, the project would not have come to fruition without College of Idaho intern Annie Morrison’s excellent copyediting, for which I am immensely grateful.

In putting the book together, we set our sights on celebrating the beauty, enjoyment and range of emotions that Idaho’s rivers elicit. Due in no small part to the project’s contributors I think we accomplished that goal.

  • The book is for sale at a number of bookstores around Idaho, at the IRU offices and at IRU events. Copies are $20 and are available by contacting Idaho Rivers United. Please call (208) 343-7481 or email Natalie Shellworth at natalie@idahorivers.org. It can also be purchased online at IRU’s River Store.

Homeland chief warns of long fire season (Idaho Mountain Express newspaper)

Idaho Mountain Express. Janet Napolitano story.The nation’s top official responsible for disaster response visited Boise Tuesday, July 3, and said it’s time for Westerners to brace for a long, hot wildfire season.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano spent Tuesday afternoon at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, where the nation’s leading fire commanders and scientists briefed her and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on the conditions that have led to one of the most destructive wildfire seasons in years. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter joined the briefing.

“We were looking at the extensive amount of interagency cooperation that goes into planning for fire season, making…”

  • Click here to read the whole article, written for the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper.

The Most Interesting Fish in the World (Idaho Rivers United)

In 2012 I had the great fortune to head up a team of passionate activists working to shed more light on the plight of the Pacific Northwest’s endangered wild salmon. The diverse four-month multimedia campaign included a thorough public relations effort that resulted in stories in the Seattle Times, National Geographic NewsWatch, National Public Radio, Idaho Statesman and Idaho Public Television, among others. It also included creation of a website and implementation of an intensive social media campaign that, at its peak, reached thousands of viewers per day. It also included scripting, editing and production of radio ads that ran throughout the state of Idaho.

To be sure, this was a team effort. Extensive credit is due to copywriter Jessica Holmes; graphic designer Bethany Walter; Idaho Rivers United board members Andy Munter, Tom Stuart and Kathleen Fahey; College of Idaho interns Annie Morrison and Joe Pickett and to all of the staff at IRU who helped make it happen. But I was proud to work at the center of a project seeking to make a difference for one of the Pacific Northwest’s cultural and ecological icons. As project lead, I assigned tasks to the project’s talented contributors, edited website and radio ad copy, drafted and distributed press releases and fact sheets and managed two interns who pounded the pavement to make the project gel.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (Sun Valley Guide magazine)

Sun Valley Guide Summer 2012. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. Writing by Greg Stahl.

Sun Valley Guide, summer 2012Ed Cannady walks on the shoulders of giants.

Sculpted lean by decades of backcountry travel, he’s a man with a passion for Idaho’s celebrated Sawtooth National Recreation Area that weaves through the fabric of who he is.

As the SNRA’s backcountry recreation manager, Cannady has what he calls “an intense 40-year relationship” with the SNRA’s craggy mountains and swift-running streams. What he won’t say is that he knows the SNRA’s subtleties and struggles as well as anyone. He arrived for a backpacking trip in 1973, a year after the 756,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land were protected, and his heart has been struck through with the place ever since.

“I wasn’t born in this place, but I was born for this place,” Cannady said. “There’s never been a doubt. When I go there and find a nice spot with a view or flowers or whatever, I’m able to slow down, breathe and slow my pace a little bit. There’s a magic quality to that. These places make me want to be better than I am.”

“Better than I am.” A humble man and his place. A place that’s an awful lot better than it might have been.

And that has everything to do with the giants on whose shoulders Cannady walks. Forty years ago this August their efforts fell short of creating Idaho’s only national park while succeeding at protecting 756,000 acres of timelessly beautiful mountains, rivers and ranchland as Idaho’s first national recreation area. In the annals of the United States’ well-documented legacy of public land conservation, they’re some of the most monumental unsung heroes of their time.

“They’re the nobility here,” Cannady said. “I’m just trying to be worthy of their efforts.”

For the summer 2012 issue of Sun Valley Guide magazine, on the 40th anniversary of the SNRA’s founding, Cannady and Greg Stahl joined forces to retell the story of how Idaho’s most prized landscape was preserved.

  • Click here to see Cannady’s photographs and read the story, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.
  • Click here to read the sidebar, How a Photographer Saved a Mountain.