Postal Service to renew Idaho backcountry mail route


Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:33 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 14 at 12:24 PM

Ray Arnold has been delivering the mail for 34 years

BOISE -- For half a century, the U.S. Postal Service has delivered mail to those hearty souls living in Idaho's remote backcountry.

But in a search for ways to cut its budget, the postmaster general said the wilderness service had to go. That announcement had many up in arms. But a new development today appears encouraging.

This is the only backcountry air mail route remaining in the lower 48 states -- delivery service within the two-million acre Frank Church-River of No Return wilderness.

So when the bureaucrats back east said they were stopping it -- those who use the service decided to push the envelope.

"I don't think they visualize a place in America that doesn't have roads or telephone lines or power lines," said Carol Arnold.

"We cannot go out every week and pick up our's impossible," said Heinz Sippel.

"Everyone get their mail. Why can't we?" said Sue Anderson.

Getting mail delivered, once a week, by airplane is not a luxury, it's a necessity for those who live in Idaho's vast wilderness -- those along the Salmon and Selway rivers.

It's a service that's been provided to them for more than half a century -- mostly by Ray Arnold of Arnold Aviation.

"We've been doing the mail for 34 years," said Ray Arnold. "All told we have about 22 airports that we stop at at a time."

"You use that term 'airport' very loosely," said NewsChannel 7.

"That's a matter of opinion. This is a great airport right here," laughs Arnold.

It may be the most scenic job in the land -- flying through snow-capped mountains before dramatically dipping down to remote backyard runways.

Last month, Arnold and his postal patrons learned this service was being cut at the end of June.

In these economic times, the Postal Service could no longer justify the $46,000 needed to keep it in flight -- an annual budget that Arnold says barely covers his costs. He supplements that salary by delivering food and other provisions paid for by people like Lynn Demerse, manager of Shepp Ranch.

The nearest town to this guest ranch is 40 miles away -- not by car, but by boat. And the postmaster's offer of a post office box was even further away.

"The approach was wrong. 'We're discontinuing your mail service sorry for the inconvenience. You'll have a free post office box in Cascade,' which is 110 miles from here. No negotiating? No compromise?" said Demerse.

"No way" said Demerse and her far flung neighbors.

"Can you fight city hall? Can you fight big government? We'll find out," said Demerse.

Today, she did find out as did the dozens of others who rely on Ray Arnold's unique mail route. After significant pushing and prodding from Idaho's congressional delegation -- a letter was issued from Postmaster General John Potter.

After considering the alternatives, Potter says, "in view of the obligation to provide service to the American public, this contract should continue in its present form."

Something not lost on those fighting this battle is the postmaster general's salary.

As Potter was trying to trim $46,000 from Idaho's backcountry service, he was making $265,000 a year. Plus a performance bonus, last year of $135,000.