Out West student blog

Feeding the River

Getting out of the house for a hike in Marin County.  (Photo credit: Rebecca Christianson)

By Zack Boyd '21
Hometown: Kintnersville, PA
Major: Earth Systems
Conservation Intern, Henry's Fork Foundation

Last Tuesday, I presented my work so far this summer to the Henry’s Fork Foundation (HFF) in Ashton, Idaho. For the last couple of months, I’ve been digging through old newsletters, talking to employees, and searching for any records I could find to help me piece together HFF’s history. I was nowhere near done when I presented, and I struggled to put everything into a slideshow that could hold anyone’s attention for fifteen minutes.


 My project is a bit of an oddball among those of HFF’s interns this summer. The other five interns are working directly on research projects in or near the river that HFF protects (the Henry’s Fork, a major fork of the Snake River that flows near the Tetons in Eastern Idaho), and although other interns are working remotely, my project is the only one that isn’t focused on a research question about the river itself.  Most days, my work consists of sitting on my laptop in the house I’m renting in San Jose, reviewing decade-old newsletters and putting any scrap of information I can find on past projects into an Excel sheet. It can be hard to imagine how such a remote project is having an impact on a river a thousand miles away. 


Henry’s Fork Foundation has been around for 36 years. In that time, it has changed and grown considerably. Beginning simply as an advocacy group, HFF shifted over 20 years ago towards a collaborative approach towards conservation that promoted discussion with everyone who utilizes the water in the river, from irrigators to anglers to town councils. Over the years, HFF has completed dozens of projects to support the river and the people around it. The records of these projects are scattered in various folders on- and offline (some are completely inaccessible to me, typewritten years ago and locked away in filing cabinets at HFF’s headquarters in Ashton), and it is almost impossible right now to completely summarize all of the work that HFF has done on the river. This also means that it is very hard to determine which projects need to be revisited for maintenance. 


My project was created by HFF’s executive staff to address this. Although it doesn’t directly impact the river, this work is laying the groundwork for a more comprehensive approach to conservation on the Henry’s Fork. My Excel spreadsheet will eventually be the receptacle for any project HFF undertakes, allowing all projects to be tracked and searched easily. This can be adapted into a map-based interactive to show what the Foundation has done over the years at different points along the river. Despite the challenges, I think my presentation went well. For the rest of the summer, I will be trying to fill in the gaps in my research and writing a final report to pass on to the next intern to work on this project. Although it would be nice to work on a more direct project, I am perfectly happy to be feeding into the mission of a larger organization, and to be contributing to the future of this river.


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