June 2, 2023

From Bruce and Mary Ann Fuller

For us, this adventure began nearly 20 years ago when fellow 168 member Don Christiansen gave a presentation at our Chapter meeting highlighting his recent trip to the Idaho Backcountry. We were treated to stunning photos of the mountains, rivers, remote airstrip, and of course lots of airplanes. Don had flown to the Johnson Creek airstrip (3U2) located deep in the Payette National Forest and spent a week camping and flying out to several other remote airstrips as well as the quaint lakefront town of McCall, Idaho. Johnson Creek is a 3400X150-foot grass strip nestled alongside the Salmon River tributary of Johnson Creek; a beautiful spot ringed by tall mountains. At just a few


feet under 5000’ elevation, JC is a popular airstrip and camping area for Backcountry pilots from all over the US. After witnessing Don’s presentation, Mary Ann and I knew that a trip to Idaho was in our future. Not long thereafter we began visiting Idaho and the area around McCall and Johnson Creek on a regular
basis. By the time the pandemic hit we had visited about a dozen times, summer and winter, even spending three months there in the summer of 2017.



After Bruce retired in November 2021, we decided we would throw our name in the hat for the summer caretaker’s job at Johnson Creek. Of the more than 100 Backcountry or remote airstrips in Idaho, 31 are maintained by the Idaho Division of Aeronautics and 4 of the most popular sites have resident caretakers for the summer flying season. These airstrips usually offer campsites with firepits, grills, restrooms, and shower facilities, as well as courtesy vehicles and Wi-Fi. The role of the caretaker is to maintain the facilities throughout the summer and ensure an enjoyable experience for the visiting pilots.
Duties include irrigating and mowing the runway, tiedown area, and the campgrounds, keeping the restrooms stocked with supplies, and maintaining the courtesy cars. In early April of last year, we received a call from the Idaho Division of Aeronautics Airport Manager that the Johnson Creek caretakes position was not available for the 2022 season, but there was an opening for the Smiley Creek airstrip if we wanted it. The only catch was while the JC airstrip has caretaker living quarters, the Smiley Creek airstrip only offered a full hook-up RV pad. Not a problem for us as we already have our motorhome. So, after discussing it for all of 10 minutes, we accepted the Smiley Creek job.



Smiley Creek airstrip is located 40 miles Northwest of Ketchum/Sun Valley and 20 miles South of Stanley on Scenic Byway 75. Nestled in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and surrounded by the Sawtooth and White Cloud Mountain ranges, the airstrip sits on 40 acres and is bordered by the main Salmon River. At an elevation of 7200 feet, the 4900X150 foot turf runway (14/32) is long enough to handle even the largest backcountry aircraft. We arrived at Smiley Creek on May 22nd with snow flurries and an outside temperature of 19 degrees. What a shock to the system since it was 98 degrees when we had left Texas just 5 days ago. Did I mention that I am from Maine, so this was like a day at the beach. For the next few days, we busied ourselves with opening the campground, setting out picnic tables and trash cans, making sure the two courtesy cars were road worthy and checking out the mower, tractor, and UTV. The following weekend was the Memorial Day Holiday and we were expecting our first fly in guest. Then it snowed. All weekend long. Fifteen inches of snow fell on the surrounding mountains. No one showed up!! We laughed it off. We stayed nice and cozy in our motorhome and watched Netflix all weekend. Finally on June 3rd our first pilot arrived, Tracy, from Chattanooga, in an RV-8 on his way to Johnson Creek and after seeing the amenities we had to offer, decided to stay for 4 nights. We were open for business. The weather became normal, daily highs in the 60’s and 70’s and the sky was incredibly blue.
During the second weekend of June, we had the Straight Tail 182 Owners show up with 30 aircraft followed by the Glasair Aircraft Owners on the last weekend of June with 35 aircraft and the Utah Backcountry Fliers annual fly-in with over 50 aircraft in early July. At times we had more people from Texas camping out than from any other State. We even got a visit from Don Christianson in August. And so it went for the rest of the summer as we estimated about 1500 aircraft operations until finally
we had to evacuate the airport on Labor Day due to an encroaching wildfire. We put an X on the approach and departure ends of the runway and relocated the motorhome to a National Forest Campground 20 miles away until September 18 th when we returned, removed the X’s and closed up the campground.
Over all it was a fantastic summer. The scenery was wonderful, the pilots and families were kind and appreciative of the facilities and runway, and the boss was always saying “make sure you have fun”.

Would we do it again? We leave on May 20th for our second season at Smiley Creek. Come and visit sometime.