If you’ve ever rafted or rowed a drift boat down the 26 miles of the canyon section of the South Fork of the Snake River from Conant Landing to the Heise area east of Idaho Falls with its sweeping cliffs, sightings of eagles, blue herons, moose, beaver, mountain goats, and cutthroat trout arcing out of the river before your eyes, gratefulness to the person who led the effort to preserve it is appropriate, especially now. That person is Tim Hopkins. Hopkins, 85, a founding partner of the Idaho Falls law firm Hopkins Roden, died last week.
Here’s how it came down. In mid-1984, J. R. Hays, owner of a sprawling ranch along that stretch, decided to subdivide large acreage of the ranch into a housing development with a golf course. He applied for preliminary approval to the Bonneville County Planning and Zoning Commission, which denied it based on conflicting with the county’s comprehensive plan, consistent with a memorandum of understanding signed by, among others, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Idaho Fish and Game Department to protect the bordering public lands.
In late 1984, on appeal from Hays, the Bonneville County Commissioners overturned the Zoning Commission’s decision despite passionate pleas at the public hearing from other landowners, outdoor enthusiasts, and representatives of the MOU agencies. Area residents then formed the South Fork Coalition to oppose the development and hired Hopkins. Hopkins sued the commissioners successfully at the district court level. Hays appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court, which heard the case twice, ultimately ruling 3 to 2 in favor of Hays.
Hopkins’s six years of legal wrangling bought time. The Nature Conservancy was able to purchase some of the undeveloped land from Hays, and because of the federal agencies’ involvement, Congress stepped in. According to Greg Crockett, managing partner at Hopkins Roden, several of the firm’s members hosted U.S. representatives from around the country on float trips through the stretch to demonstrate its attributes, prompting Congress to approve a land swap with Hays and preserve the area many cherish today.
My gratitude is also for Hopkins’s exemplary impartiality. Though a registered Republican, he supported Democrats when he deemed them better candidates, and in 2019 even attended our local Democratic Party fundraiser. As his daughter Kate told me this week, Tim valued people “regardless of social standing, religion, or political party . . . and had no qualms about that.” He displayed Biden-Harris signs in his yard last fall, emailing me that removing them in the evening seemed “to foil the louts who are stealing signs under the cover of night.”
According to Kate, and anyone having the privilege to speak with Tim, he also was an extraordinary, focused listener — to his clients and anyone with whom he was speaking.
Tim Hopkins’s legacy is not only the uninterrupted 26-mile canyon section along the South Fork, but supporting causes critically important to Idahoans and the people who support those causes — not party — and listening to the people being represented. If only the Republican majority of the Idaho Legislature would do the same.
Pat Tucker is the chair of the Bonneville County Democratic Party Central Committee.