We find ourselves advocating for what we love. It’s the unintentional experiences that cement our passion to conserve and protect.
For Grant Richie, owner and operator of Minam Store Outfitters, that is clearly the case. Grant is a passionate advocate for cold-water fisheries, particularly the Grande Ronde River system.
While attending college in Walla Walla, Washington, an unintended encounter with a steelhead on the Touche River changed his life’s path forever. The encounter fueled a fire to spend more time on the water, going where the steelhead go. It was an ad on Craigslist that sealed Grant and wife Lottie’s future. Rather than one raft, Grant came across an ad for 10 rafts and an outfitting business. Most would consider this fate, for Grant and Lottie it anchored their lives in the guiding and outfitting world and as advocates for the Grande Ronde and its steelhead.
Born and raised in Lewiston, Idaho to a ranching family, Grant has a clear commitment to the area. His great-great grandfather was one of the first few to call Hells Canyon home at the turn of the 20th century, buying a ranch while homesteading another. The result, five generations of family making a living in the canyon. Some running sheep and cattle, in Grant’s case running rivers and chasing runs of salmon and steelhead. It is this rich history and memories of days in Hells Canyon that provide the foundation for Grant’s conservation ethic and appreciation of wild places and intact ecosystems.
Grant reflects on the Minam River, recognizing its own adversity; historically a heavily logged landscape with the river serving as the shipping corridor. Despite channelization and lack of diverse habitat today, Grant remains optimistic. Grant concentrates on the intact habitat among the large swaths of public land, particularly the Eagle Cap Wilderness that the Minam and Wallowa Rivers drain out of, giving him hope that when we get the fish to return, they will have a home.
Grant gets excited talking about the work being down in the Wallowa Valley, particularly the recent agreement between the Nez Perce and Umatilla Tribes, Wallowa Lake Irrigation District and the state of Oregon to rehabilitate Wallow Lake Dam. The project will provide access to hundreds of miles of habitat connectivity beyond Wallowa Lake Dam. Added benefits include a coldwater hold back providing thermal refuge for migrating sockeye and other native fish species, community resilience and economic benefits.
While watching the ebb and flow of steelhead run numbers, Grant sees his business wax and wane. What once were booked weeks in late October and early November with a fevered pitch of trips in late January and February can no longer be counted on. With five boys, what should be a hopeful legacy revolving around the seasonal run of salmon and steelhead, that legacy may come up short.
The three oldest boys work seasonally for Grant and Lottie while on break from college. Grant admits, they’ve grown up on the limited opportunities that salmon and steelhead have provided. They grew up on the river and now as young men see what could be agreed is a downhill trajectory of steelhead in the Grande Ronde and the Snake River basin. Although Grant is confident, they will always have a deep love for the Grande Ronde, their future in salmon and steelhead guiding is uncertain, unless there is change.
Grant recognizes the impacts of the four lower Snake River dams come down to personal cost and inconvenience an individual might be subject to. With the added value of a captive audience on the raft Grant finds himself in conversations with folks that support the dams and what they stand for. Most are emotionally involved in the dams.
One returning client gets very passionate about the issue. His family grows wheat in a neighboring community and although he wouldn’t be personally harmed, he supports an industry perspective, keep the dams.
Grant and Lottie grasp the economics of steelhead and salmon abundance, their lives depend on it. Reflecting on the opportunity he and his wife provide for clients, Grant can’t think of a future that doesn’t include salmon and steelhead. Grant isn’t shy to remind folks that salmon and steelhead have huge economic impacts on his business and on Walla Walla County. Grant and Lottie hire up to 50 staff annually. Steelhead and salmon trips currently make up 25 percent compared to historically 50 percent of this business. Grant is confident that the area’s service and hospitality industry understands how much salmon and steelhead mean to the community.
The 40-mile roadless, wild and scenic river corridor that Grant calls his office provides an overwhelming experience for all but the most well-traveled anglers and river enthusiasts. Grant and Lottie offer fully guided and outfitted 4-5 day trips. Depending on the season these trips range from riverside, five course meals prepared by area chefs with hosted wine tasting from wineries in nearby Walla Walla. On the flipside if you’re a fly angler looking for the experience of a lifetime, the attention of one guide and two anglers on a five-day float may be just what you’re looking for. The Minam Store itself is a full-service fly shop with everything an angler or river enthusiast could need or want.
Committed to gaining a better understanding from each side, Grant relies on these conversations. He believes respectful discussion with acceptance of other viewpoints gets you more to a center line of understanding. Grant identifies a need to strike a balance and make sure everyone’s concerns are heard and addressed if we are to reach a solution to recover Snake River basin salmon and steelhead.
After 120 yrs. of his family walking, hiking and working in the hills of the Snake River basin, Grant strives to see the landscape and river remain intact and free flowing once again. Grant is optimistic that we can figure out how to take out the four lower Snake River dams, so we don’t lose these runs.