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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Riggins

Friday, November 3, 2017  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Riggins in the Valley

Riggins lies in a mountain canyon on a long alluvial bar at the confluence of the Little Salmon and Salmon Rivers 35 miles northwest of McCall and 47 miles south of Grangeville, the county seat.

Idaho County has over 5.4 million acres and is Idaho’s largest county. Eighty-five percent of the county is federal lands with high mountains and timbered forests. Given the city’s low elevation among high rugged mountains, it has a surprisingly mild winter climate.

The Salmon River is the city’s economic lifeblood. From Riggins, the Salmon River—known as the "River of no Return" and the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states—makes a ninety degree turn north on its remaining 60-mile course that falls about 900 feet before emptying into the Snake River.

The attraction of rafters, boaters and kayakers to the fast-flowing crystal-clear river has caused residents to name their city "Idaho’s Whitewater Capital" and gateway to premier backcountry recreation and adventure.

Thousands of people come each year for exciting but safe whitewater raft excursions on the Salmon River. Some take short trips for a day. Others take customized overnight trips for a longer duration. Trips to the Snake River and Hells Canyon take nearly a week.

Anglers come to fish for steelhead, salmon, trout, bass and sturgeon.

High-adventure campers pack into the Gospel Hump and Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness that lie to the east or to the Seven Devils Mountains and Hells Canyon National Recreation Area that lie to the west.

Other visitors come to be ferried upriver on jet boats to stay at privately owned wilderness resorts.

Historical Tidbits

For centuries, Nez Perce Indians camped on the alluvial bar that borders the Salmon and Little Salmon Rivers.

During the 1863 gold rush upriver near Florence, prospectors stopped to pan for gold on the bar. Some found small quantities of the precious metal but did not stay.

In 1893 Isaac and Mary Irwin and their five sons purchased a gold mining claim on the bar, filed for a homestead and built the first house in what is now Riggins.

The Irwins were soon joined by other homesteaders who also began ranching and farming operations. The homesteaders built a schoolhouse on donated land in what is now Riggins. Fourteen students attended the first class.

At that time, John Riggins operated a ferry and blacksmith shop which he later moved to the north end of the bar near the site of the present bridge. In March 1901 John’s son, Richard, and his wife, Ethel, came.

In the early years, a vicious saloon fight with obvious results led many local residents to refer to the town as "Gouge Eye."

A few years later, the Northern Pacific Railroad surveyed a line to what is now Riggins. Charley Clay, a principal in the Clay and Irwin Bar, persuaded the survey crew to plat a townsite on the Irwin homestead. In 1908 the railroad extended a branch line to Grangeville but the branch line to Riggins never materialized.

With people acquiring townsite lots, the community petitioned for a post office with Richard Riggins as postmaster. Postal authorities approved the post office but rather than accept the petition name that was already in use by another community, they named it Riggins.

Early settlers followed a narrow, windy north-south wagon road down the Little Salmon Canyon through the community, used the ferry to cross the river and then proceed on to Grangeville. In 1912 the state constructed a bridge across the Salmon River on the north end of town.

In 1926 the federal government established the U.S. highway system, at which time the road became what is now U.S. Highway 95. Around 1937 the federal government funded certain road improvements.

On July 5, 1947, Riggins became an incorporated village.

Outdoor Recreation...the Whitewater Capital

By the time the sawmill burned in 1982, Riggins was already becoming recognized as a base for exceptional whitewater and back-county recreation. Since that time, residents promoted and gradually developed the outdoor recreation businesses that now underpin the city’s economy.

 Tourism is Riggins’ largest industry. Numerous businesses including river-related outfitter guide operations, motels, grocery and convenience stores, restaurants and RV parks line the Main Street, Highway 95, business district. With the exceptional white-water rafting in the area, Riggins has become known as the "Whitewater Capital," and people come from around the world to experience the thrills.

Amenities and Attractions Today

The city’s most significant amenity is the Salmon River. In one way or another, most activities involve the river.

Riggins City Park comprises about five acres and is the location for many local events. The park has facilities for picnicking, children’s play area and ball fields.

Riggins is the host to many annual events that are fun for the whole family.

The Riggins Sacred Salmon Ceremony and Friendship Feast takes place each May. This event celebrates the return of the salmon to their ancestral waters. Native Americans and non-Indians alike come together in friendship to celebrate this historic event.

In June, the annual Bigwater Blowout River Festival takes place. The event starts in Riggins City Park and includes rafting, fun games and good food.

The 4th of July Freedom Festival takes place each year in Riggins City Park.

The city also holds the Hot Summer Nights celebration in July. This event includes a talent show, kids games, food booths, a beer garden and good music.

Each fall, the city sponsors the Steelhead Fishing Derby. In October, the city has the annual Regional Art Show and Silent Auction. In December, the city conducts the Community Craft Fair.

During the steelhead run that generally occurs in February and March, the community sponsors the "Women With Bait" steelhead tournament in which over 400 women compete for great prizes.

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