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History of the Payette River

The Payette River system was named after Francois Payette a French-Canadian trapper whose exploits with the local Blackfoot indians are infamous. In the late 60’s kayakers from nearby Boise began to kayak many of the sections visible from Highway 55. As the popularity of outdoor recreation increased, the masses that made the weekend drive to the banks of the Payette grew. During the 80’s, many rafting companies opened for business to accommodate the adventurous crowd.
Mudslides!
The winter of 1996 and spring of 1997 brought some of the highest water levels in years with a winter snow pack of almost 180%. On Christmas day, a warm weather storm blew in and raised the temperatures to almost 50 degrees, dropping 3 inches of rain. Needless to say, massive mudslides ensued. Scattered up and down Hwys 21, 55, and 17 were mudslides that in many cases washed the road out. Near Bronco Billy, a rapid on the lower South Fork, a mudslide actually made a natural dam that stopped up the river and cut off all access to nearby Garden Valley and Crouch for 2 weeks. The dam was cleared by floating dynamite into it, but when the river resumed its normal flow, Bronco Billy was permanently altered. Slalom, the last rapid on the same run, also had major mudslides that completely changed the rapid from a easy class III to a very exciting class IV with a new hole known as Seemore (as in see more rafts flip, see more water, see more carnage). Massive damage at Banks 2 (a small group of buildings near Bennett’s Rock rapid) caused the area to be condemned. On the Main Payette, what once was a fun surf wave called “The Main Play Wave”, became known as GLOYF (go left or you’re fired) after the mudslides. The following description is from the Gem County website:
Flood – New Year’s Day Storm – January 1-5, 1997
Event Summary: $65,000,000.00 – New Year’s day floods in the Weiser, Payette and Salmon River drainages of southwestern Idaho caused record flooding and numerous mudslides. Warm temperatures combined with a rainfall 4-6 times the normal amount; the resulting snowmelt triggered devastating floods, mudslides and avalanches, extensively damaging communities and infrastructure throughout Idaho. The community of South Banks was condemned because of extensive slide damage. Over 400 miles of roads and several railroad lines were blocked or destroyed, stranding over 10,000 holiday travelers in western Idaho. Residents of McCall, Cascade, Banks, Lowman and Garden Valley were isolated. Rivers were “running like chocolate,” carrying huge trees, mud and boulders; the Snake River at Hells Canyon Dam crested at 101,728 cfs January 1, nearly 30,000 cfs over its previous record level on 2/23/82. The crash of a plane carrying 5 people from Boise to McCall, killing all, was a result of the weather. Governor Batt declared 13 counties a disaster: Gem, Adams, Washington, Idaho, Clearwater, Valley, Payette, Elmore, Latah, Boundary, Bonner, Shoshone and Boise. A Federal disaster was declared on January 4, 1997.
County Summary: The Payette River at the Black Canyon Dam crested at 39,000 cfs, more than twice flood stage. Highways and bridges were destroyed by mudslides, isolating several communities. Fourteen levees were damaged. Gem County declared a state of emergency along the Payette River January 1, and ordered over 250 people in Emmett to evacuate. 15 people were sheltered by the Red Cross at Emmett High School, and an unknown number at the Mormon Church. A gas line underneath the Payette River broke, leaving 150 people in Emmett without service.
$643,480.00
The Idaho Statesman January 2, 3, 4, 1997, 3/20/97
The next mudslides would not come until 2001, at Staircase rapid on the lower South Fork, completely changing it as well. (from the NOAA site)
A powerful thunderstorm dropped a half inch of rain in 15 minutes and nearly an inch in the hour between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. on the afternoon of the 13th. This caused flash flooding in the steep terrain alongside the Payette River. The flash flooding triggered mudslides along a stretch of Highway 17 from 2 miles East of Banks to 8 miles East of Banks. Highway 17 was closed for 20 hours. A second area of mudslides located 2 miles North of Banks closed Highway 55 overnight . Some vehicles were trapped between mudslides but no one was injured. Cost of clearing this slide (and a slide three days later) was estimated at $500K.
The “Gutter”
The gutter is also known as the fish ladder. Located in the middle of Horseshoe Bend, this feature has become the afternoon playground for hordes of play boaters from Boise. Originally desinged to accommodate a river diversion for the Horseshoe Bend Hydroelcectic project, it was built with boaters in mind. On weekends and late weekday afternoons you can expect to see at least a few groups of paddlers enjoying the late summer sunlight and warmth. Often, local kayak shops have weekly boat demos and BBQ’s.
This is by no means the “History of the Payette”. If you would like a story or section added, please email the webmaster. We will be constantly updating this page so check back soon!

The Payette River system was named after Francois Payette a French-Canadian trapper whose exploits with the local Blackfoot indians are infamous. In the late 60’s kayakers from nearby Boise began to kayak many of the sections visible from Highway 55. As the popularity of outdoor recreation increased, the masses that made the weekend drive to the banks of the Payette grew. During the 80’s, many rafting companies opened for business to accommodate the adventurous crowd.
Mudslides!The winter of 1996 and spring of 1997 brought some of the highest water levels in years with a winter snow pack of almost 180%. On Christmas day, a warm weather storm blew in and raised the temperatures to almost 50 degrees, dropping 3 inches of rain. Needless to say, massive mudslides ensued. Scattered up and down Hwys 21, 55, and 17 were mudslides that in many cases washed the road out. Near Bronco Billy, a rapid on the lower South Fork, a mudslide actually made a natural dam that stopped up the river and cut off all access to nearby Garden Valley and Crouch for 2 weeks. The dam was cleared by floating dynamite into it, but when the river resumed its normal flow, Bronco Billy was permanently altered. Slalom, the last rapid on the same run, also had major mudslides that completely changed the rapid from a easy class III to a very exciting class IV with a new hole known as Seemore (as in see more rafts flip, see more water, see more carnage). Massive damage at Banks 2 (a small group of buildings near Bennett’s Rock rapid) caused the area to be condemned. On the Main Payette, what once was a fun surf wave called “The Main Play Wave”, became known as GLOYF (go left or you’re fired) after the mudslides. The following description is from the Gem County website:Flood – New Year’s Day Storm – January 1-5, 1997Event Summary: $65,000,000.00 – New Year’s day floods in the Weiser, Payette and Salmon River drainages of southwestern Idaho caused record flooding and numerous mudslides. Warm temperatures combined with a rainfall 4-6 times the normal amount; the resulting snowmelt triggered devastating floods, mudslides and avalanches, extensively damaging communities and infrastructure throughout Idaho. The community of South Banks was condemned because of extensive slide damage. Over 400 miles of roads and several railroad lines were blocked or destroyed, stranding over 10,000 holiday travelers in western Idaho. Residents of McCall, Cascade, Banks, Lowman and Garden Valley were isolated. Rivers were “running like chocolate,” carrying huge trees, mud and boulders; the Snake River at Hells Canyon Dam crested at 101,728 cfs January 1, nearly 30,000 cfs over its previous record level on 2/23/82. The crash of a plane carrying 5 people from Boise to McCall, killing all, was a result of the weather. Governor Batt declared 13 counties a disaster: Gem, Adams, Washington, Idaho, Clearwater, Valley, Payette, Elmore, Latah, Boundary, Bonner, Shoshone and Boise. A Federal disaster was declared on January 4, 1997.County Summary: The Payette River at the Black Canyon Dam crested at 39,000 cfs, more than twice flood stage. Highways and bridges were destroyed by mudslides, isolating several communities. Fourteen levees were damaged. Gem County declared a state of emergency along the Payette River January 1, and ordered over 250 people in Emmett to evacuate. 15 people were sheltered by the Red Cross at Emmett High School, and an unknown number at the Mormon Church. A gas line underneath the Payette River broke, leaving 150 people in Emmett without service.$643,480.00The Idaho Statesman January 2, 3, 4, 1997, 3/20/97
The next mudslides would not come until 2001, at Staircase rapid on the lower South Fork, completely changing it as well. (from the NOAA site)
A powerful thunderstorm dropped a half inch of rain in 15 minutes and nearly an inch in the hour between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. on the afternoon of the 13th. This caused flash flooding in the steep terrain alongside the Payette River. The flash flooding triggered mudslides along a stretch of Highway 17 from 2 miles East of Banks to 8 miles East of Banks. Highway 17 was closed for 20 hours. A second area of mudslides located 2 miles North of Banks closed Highway 55 overnight . Some vehicles were trapped between mudslides but no one was injured. Cost of clearing this slide (and a slide three days later) was estimated at $500K.
The “Gutter”The gutter is also known as the fish ladder. Located in the middle of Horseshoe Bend, this feature has become the afternoon playground for hordes of play boaters from Boise. Originally desinged to accommodate a river diversion for the Horseshoe Bend Hydroelcectic project, it was built with boaters in mind. On weekends and late weekday afternoons you can expect to see at least a few groups of paddlers enjoying the late summer sunlight and warmth. Often, local kayak shops have weekly boat demos and BBQ’s.

This is by no means the “History of the Payette”. If you would like a story or section added, please email the webmaster. We will be constantly updating this page so check back soon!