When a family homesteads a property and is able to pass the land down to future generations, the ties to the land are strong. And when the land lies along the beautiful banks of the South Fork of the Snake River, the motivation to conserve the land can be even stronger. This was the case with the Koon Family.
Jack E. Koon and his son Jack Lee contacted the Teton Regional Land Trust in the early 2000s. With such a stunning piece of land along the South Fork, they’d received vast interest over the years from realtors looking to buy and develop their family property. Although they could have used the money, they did not want to part with the land. Jack E.’s grandfather had homesteaded the property in 1906. He built a sod house on the land for his family and built granaries for his crops. He was able to keep enough of the ground intact to eventually pass it down to his grandson, Jack E. Koon. Jack E. and his wife raised a family on the land and had fond memories of fishing and camping, especially at their favorite fishing hole on Bannock Jim Slough. Jack Lee shared stories about growing up on the property and how he did not want to let it go. The family was very proud of having held onto it during the Depression and during the Teton Dam collapse and flood; they all had strong family connections to the place. Jack Lee said that for about 15 years, he kept his father from selling the property during hard financial times. Jack Lee wanted the land to be a legacy to his father and his family. He reiterated that the family had worked very hard to hang on to this land and tried to be good stewards; he wanted to see that the hard work paid off and was appreciated. Jack E. and his son Jack Lee agreed to conserve their land in 2010 – they conserved nearly 200 acres. And indeed, they were good stewards. They battled weeds with annual weed control parties with the Land Trust and neighbors. They conserved the land’s South Fork river frontage and cattle pasture, as well as habitat for one of the strongest breeding areas for nesting Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, prolific songbirds, rare orchids, and native trout. And while Jack E.’s health was not conducive to joining annual Land Trust visits, his son Jack Lee always took time out of his busy schedule from his work at the post office to join the staff to share a proud walk on his land.
In recent years, the annual Land Trust visit would include Jack Lee’s aunt, Carol Koon; Carol is the only living sister-in-law of Jack E. Koon’s family. One of Carol’s favorite things to do was ride with Jack Lee in his pick-up to see what she could see on the ride down to the river and across hers and Jack Lee’s properties, she said “We would always see a few deer, either white-tailed or mule deer; quite often we would see a moose or two, and we would see many Bald Eagles and Blue Herons. Depending on the time of year we would see pheasants, ducks, and geese.” Carol reflects on her ties to the land and family, after moving to Idaho in September 2015, and writes: “The first year I stayed with my niece, Anita, mid-August through mid-December 2015. Each day I was there I looked across Anita’s on to my property and thought “one day I am going to have my own home right over there’; I could just imagine my home over there just like my husband Bill and I planned. The second-year I rented, brother-in-law, Bob’s trailer. I planned weekend dinners so I could get acquainted with different family members. My husband Bill was a professional chef and together for 30 years we cooked in Colorado, Arizona, and California. Bill passed away on October 23, 1996. After Bill passed, I homeschooled our grandsons, Justis and Radigan, from pre-school through high school. I started making plans to move to Idaho in 2015. After moving to Idaho, I realized that I was not going to be able to put a home on my property and wanted to leave the property to my two grandsons, Justis and Radigan. I love this beautiful property.”
Jack E. passed away in 2018 not long after his 90th birthday. Jack Lee (son of Jack E.) passed away on December 17, 2019, in his early 60s, leaving a legacy not only for his father; but, for his sister Doris M. Hansen and their family.
Jack Lee and Jack E. Koon signing their conservation easement in 2010.
Overall, the family conserved approximately 3/4 mile of South Fork riverfront as well as Bannock Jim Slough at the confluence of two iconic rivers; the South Fork and the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, which is home to one of the most robust cottonwood galleries left in North America. The cottonwood canopy forest, including wetlands and upland habitat within the South Fork and lower Henry’s Fork river corridors, is one of the most unique and biologically diverse ecosystems in Idaho and is a stronghold for endangered Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The wetlands of this area are the first major stopover for waterbirds migrating north of the Great Salt Lake, providing critical resting and foraging areas for a half-million waterfowl and several hundred thousand other waterbird species.
Thank you, Koon Family, for your perseverance and vision to conserve this remarkable and irreplaceable landscape. We appreciate your legacy.