Outdoor Idaho: 'We have the luxury of time'

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - In October, 1983, the good people at Idaho Public Television, with fingers crossed, embarked on a bold adventure in programming, a monthly TV show that celebrates the wondrous beauty that beckons from nearly every corner of the Gem State.

The show was called "Outdoor Idaho," and it launched at a time when video equipment, still rather primitive, became more portable, allowing field production on an unprecedented scale.

Co-creator Peter Morrill, who recently retired as Idaho Public Television's general manager, remembers the early days, and not always fondly.

"We certainly tested that equipment to the extreme," he says, fairly wincing, "photographing during the hot summers and then the very deep, cold, cold winters."

But dedication trumped balky video-cameras and an institution was born.

Bruce Reichert joined a few years later and has been the "Outdoor Idaho" host ever since.

"It's been easier than I thought it would be," says Reichert. "I remembered 10-15 years ago thinking this can't last."

But it has, as one of the most popular TV programs of any PBS station in the country, and Reichert thinks he knows why.

"We are very lucky to have that element of time."

Production of each episode can take a month or more, which automatically sets "Outdoor Idaho" apart from most other local television offerings.

Morrill and Reichert credit a stable of intrepid producers and photographers who go to almost any extreme to get that signature shot.

It has meant countless flat tires, endless equipment meltdowns and a stomach-churning change of plan in the middle of complicated location shoots.

One in particular involved a raft with a mind of its own. Reichert says it became tangled in some rocks on a rugged stretch of river and required a team of outfitters and several hours to tear it free.

But the many successes outweigh the infrequent miscues and the result has been an unprecedented string of Emmy-winning documentaries on just about every aspect of life in Idaho.

One recent program threw a spotlight on the Sawtooths, a range of craggy peaks that help to define the Gem State both for natives and awestruck visitors.

But Reichert says it pays to dig deeper into the state's many nooks and crannies, and that goes even for those who think they know every inch of the local geography.

"There are mountains, lakes and rivers that defy description," he points out on a map in his souvenir-filled office, "and with every show we try to get closer to what it means to be an Idahoan and why we should care."

Morrill, who grew up in Connecticut, has an abiding love for this unique part of the country--still a blank space, he says, for many Americans.

"I've always thought of Idaho and the American West as a place of opportunity," says Morrill.

It's the primary reason why, on his watch, "Outdoor Idaho" told the stories of the grand experiments of the early republic--the dangerous journey of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the death-defying exploits of immigrant settlers following the nearly invisible road map of the Oregon Trail.

"I still think Idaho represents a place of possibilities," confides Morrill. But, warns Reichert, it's also a place of hidden dangers.

"There is a mystery about this state," he says. "Maybe it's because of its name. But I think it can be inhospitable. If you take it lightly, you could be in trouble."

It's a lesson Mother Nature tries to teach every summer, as thousands of acres of forest go up in flames. But rockslides and avalanches offer their own signature perils; it's the reality faced by "Outdoor Idaho" producers trying to tell ever-fresher stories about the grandeur that goes with the territory.

"It's a big state, a complicated state, a state you can easily get lost in," says Reichert, huddled over his computer.

But there's being lost and then there's losing yourself, and the staff at "Outdoor Idaho," more than most, keenly know the difference.