Although Ernest Hemingway was not much of a fly-fisher, his son Jack was. Jack Hemingway’s passion for the sport was kindled along Silver Creek, where he spent many hours trying to fool the legendarily wary trout. The stream had (and still has) one of the highest densities in the world of aquatic insects and the trout that feed on them.
In 1975, the Sun Valley Ranch stretch of Silver Creek came up for sale. Jack was at that time a commissioner with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. He knew the outstanding qualities of this unique, high-desert spring creek. So he contacted the Conservancy, which purchased the ranch as the organization’s first project in Idaho: Silver Creek Preserve.
Today, the preserve is considered a model for community-based conservation: It encompasses more than 850 acres and also includes nearly 10,000 acres of conservation easements with 22 adjacent landowners. Shortly before his death in 2000, Jack Hemingway said that the creek was better now than it was when he first started fishing it.
The Hemingways appreciated the efforts of the Conservancy so much that Mary Hemingway decided to bequeath the Hemingway House to the Conservancy. In addition to the home, her will bequeathed 10 acres of property surrounding the house, including one mile along the Big Wood River.
The Conservancy took ownership of the house in 1986. Manuscripts, correspondence and most historical artifacts were given to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
For several years, the home served as the office for the Conservancy in Idaho. Eventually, our staff numbers outgrew the office, but the home remained in Conservancy ownership. While Mary Hemingway left an endowment to care for the home, it did not cover the $50,000 in annual expenses required to maintain an old, historical property.
Conservancy staff found it difficult to maintain plumbing, electricity and other household elements in an unoccupied home. And as the Conservancy’s conservation work became more strategic, ownership of the home did not fit with our mission.
In 2005, the Conservancy solicited public comment on possible future options for the house. These included leasing the home to another non-profit that would conduct limited tours. Due to concerns from neighbors, the Conservancy did not choose this option.
Under an agreement with neighbors, the Conservancy can host limited functions at the home, including meetings and fundraising events.
There remain no public tours, and the home and preserve are on a private drive. But the Conservancy knows that this is a special cultural resource and that the interest in Hemingway remains high around the world.
For those who really want to see a bit of the Idaho Hemingway experienced, though, the best opportunity remains the Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve. On a crisp fall morning, with ducks overhead and elk bugling in the hills, one can easily see what brought him here.
Best of all, the scene remains just as Hemingway would have seen it. And with the many conservation easements led by the Conservancy, the valley will remain that way for future generations to enjoy.September 13, 2012