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Rockefeller's South Fork Lodge

By Kacy White
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2002, Vol. 18, No. 1

  The South Fork Lodge
  The South Fork Lodge
Mark Rockefeller’s inspiring journeys to Wyoming as a boy made him fall in love with the West and its wild places. Rockefeller, who’s family has a ranch near Jackson, took a NOLS Adventure course in 1981. His course, in addition to all the time he spent on the ranch, gave him a respect for Wyoming that’s served as a foundation for his many conservation efforts in the state.

After graduating from college, Rockefeller set out in search of an environmental project that would give back to the place that had played such a large role in his childhood and adolescent years. He did a lot of growing in the mountains and valleys of Wyoming and wanted others to be able to have similar experiences in the West. The natural world was an integral part of his education and he knew it was a resource in high demand.

Some two years of searching resulted in his discovery of an important stretch of the South Fork of the Snake River in Idaho that was in jeopardy of losing its “wild” status. This particular stretch of the canyon was threatened by development plans. The proposed development called for the area to be transformed from an ecological gem that’s home to large cottonwoods, rare orchids and more than 120 species of birds, of which 24 are hawks, eagles and owls, into more than 60 condominiums, a golf course and other man-made developments. Over the last 12 years or so Rockefeller has been involved with both the Nature Conservancy and the Conservation Fund to preserve this wild and roadless area along the South Fork. His contributions to the conservation easements have brought permanent protection to a 5-mile stretch of the river corridor.

More recently, Rockefeller came across another opportunity to have a positive impact on the Snake River and its surrounding community. He acquired a 30-acre property and lodge at a beautiful oxbow bend in the river, a deal he couldn’t pass up. Although the property prior to purchase was in a bit of disrepair, and the banks of the river were damaged by flooding, he saw what he called “a diamond in the rough.” This particular acquisition became the project of his dreams. Rockefeller restored the banks of the river, re-landscaped the acreage back to a more natural habitat, and restored the potential of this magnificent location. Today the renovated facility there, which he calls the South Fork Lodge, sets a strong example for future conservation efforts and has become a popular location for conservation groups to meet and discuss their current efforts.

Now, some twenty years after Rockefeller ventured into the Big Horn Mountains with 15 adolescent companions and two instructors, he recalls the community, the leadership opportunities and the journey through wilderness that solidified his future environmental efforts. “NOLS confirmed my love and respect for outdoors, wilderness and nature…[it] reinforced what was deep inside of me, and reinforced my love for this part of the world.”

Kacy White works in the school’s Alumni office in Lander, Wyo. and instructs NOLS courses in Wyoming and Baja, Mexico.


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