The Dory Project: Restoring Copper Ledge Falls
The hand-crafted boats of OARS Dories are honorific vessels in memoriam of wild places desecrated. Their history is palpable, their stories sometimes unbelievable. Now, through The Dory Project, veteran Idaho guide Amber Shannon is viscerally committed to intertwining their long legacy with conservation.
Carrying on this long tradition, she is restoring the Copper Ledge Falls, a wooden craft built by Jerry Briggs in 1976. The namesake, a formidable rapid on the Snake River, has been drowned since 1967.
“This whole idea started with me wanting to keep wooden boats in Idaho,” said Shannon. “There has to be a lot of drive to keep them here.”
Following the winter trajectory of many river guides, the Copper is currently in Wyoming, near the braided channels of the Snake’s headwaters in the Tetons. Shannon is working with master boat builder Adam Gottschling (better known as Dutch) on a complete restoration.
They work for the love of the places where these boats have sliced through granitic chutes, embodied kinetic energy of waves on rocks, and helped guides and guests find stillness in motion.
“I’m falling in love with her, and I haven’t even rowed her yet,” said Shannon.
The project is multi-faceted: to tell the stories of these legendary boats, embrace river stewardship, and engage the next generation of dory guides and conservation leaders.
“Through The Dory Project, I am working to preserve and continue the history of wooden boats on rivers, while drawing attention to the issues and threats facing rivers in the American West,” explained Shannon. “Many of these rivers and the ecosystems that depend on them are under threat.”
In the near-term, one of the project goals is a complete descent of both the Snake River and the Wild & Scenic Salmon River. These waterways have an antithetical dichotomy. The former is highly regulated with dams and diversions, and the latter is the longest free-flowing river in the contiguous United States.
“There’s a juxtaposition of the Salmon and the Snake. We have turned our back on her [the Snake River],” Shannon said. “Let’s talk about that.”
By making the Copper commercially runnable for coming decades, Shannon will continue in proud Idaho guide tradition: engaging those who care about the quiet spaces and important places rivers and dories take us.
“Martin Litton started that legacy of getting people out there,” she said. “Everyone loves a river trip and has fun, but there’s this secondary thing: the pulse and the flow and the love of it. It’s us as guides loving the river, and it’s them loving the river.”
The world of wooden boats is often seen as an old man’s game. Shannon embodies the fierceness of the new generation of dory guides, and is shepherding the changing of the guard with grit, humor, and Idaho river love.