A Hole in the Boat

Panic on the Reservoir

By Cheryl Cox

Despite the cold wind at the edge of his redwood deck, Shannon Hansen carefully places rib-eye steaks on a grill.

Inside, his wife Jill has set a large table, her kitchen counter already covered with potluck contributions. Eagerly accepting the steaming mug Jill offers, I take an appetizer before blending into the group of family and friends who have gathered at the Hansens’ house for a lively battle against the monotony of gray days. By the time Shannon comes inside and closes the sliding door behind him, we are discussing winter water levels and warm summer days at Palisades Reservoir, which lies about fifty-five miles southeast of Idaho Falls.

“I nearly sank the boat last year,” he announces, catching me mid-bite. He launches into a narrative that will quickly become a local classic. With my addition of a few historical notes for clarity, this is his tale:

Shannon pulls his pickup off U.S. Highway 26, careful to clear his boat and trailer as he enters the scenic overlook at Calamity Point. Here, in 1957, the Bureau of Reclamation completed a project envisioned in the late 1940s to construct a massive earthen dam across a narrow reach of the Snake River Canyon. The dam, the largest of its kind in Idaho, impounded the river, flooded the canyon, and backfilled drainages until more than a million acre-feet of water storage capacity reached as far as the Wyoming state line near Alpine, eleven miles upriver.

All this was good news for irrigators and hydroelectric power producers, but even better news for recreationists. Arguably the project’s most enthusiastic stakeholders, the Palisades Reservoir could offer a gamut of close-to-home water sports never before available on such a scale.

Shutting down his pickup, Shannon drops the ignition key onto the center console. The familiar clatter triggers seatbelts and locks. When doors fly open, his family, eager to stretch cramped legs after the drive up from Rigby, spills out onto the asphalt. Bringing up the rear, a gangly retriever coming to terms with his long legs joins the group at the overlook’s edge.

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