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Back in time at Priest Lake 

by Paul K Haeder & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he first cabin built on Priest Lake went up 75 years ago. It's still standing -- still being rented out every summer. But it has another legacy, too: Melissa Quilter, whose grandparents built that cabin.





"I was fortunate to be born into a family that is closely tied to the land, and the values inherent in responsible land stewardship," says Quilter, who owns and operates the Granite Creek Resort with her husband Mike.





"My father's family farmed in the Palouse," she continues, as she pilots her boat from one point to the next on the 21-mile-long lake as we look for the mats of milfoil. "They were the kind of farmers who revered and respected their neighbors and the land -- they wouldn't even kill a den of coyote pups if they found them while tilling the land.





"My mother's family came to Priest Lake and built a small fisherman's marina in 1931. It was here that I learned to fish (patiently), to observe nature and to appreciate simplicity and community. The satisfactions of my childhood, which have followed me all my life, are based in nature."





Quilter's Granite Creek operation is rustic -- eight cabins set amongst cedar trees, with Granite Creek gurgling in the background. Memories and history abound. Her mother taught Third Grade in Priest River. The original Granite Creek building housed a public bar. Quilter shows us a photograph of her as a 14-year-old, smiling ear-to-ear while holding up a world record kokanee. In another room, we see the prized catch mounted on a wall. It's over five pounds.





"I caught the first of the Priest Lake world record kokanee -- which was sadly representative of man's folly," she says. "The kokanee grew huge because mysis shrimp were planted in the lake to bolster the kokanee population. The shrimp out-competed the kokanee fry for phytoplankton, which is the essential food for the young fish. The shrimp population grew at the expense of all but a few lucky, big kokanee. We had a new world record every year for a handful of years, and then the kokanee population crashed. Priest Lake's kokanee population is still recovering."





Later, while we cruise slowly through the "Thoroughfare," a river connecting Upper and Lower Priest Lake, Quilter admires the dense, green wetlands and talks about spots around the lake, high in the mountains, where huckleberry patches are to die for.





Along this portion of the habitat connecting north with south, with signs warning of a "no wake zone" and "no jet skis allowed," out-of-compliance boaters and a few wave runners churn up riverbank eroding wakes.





Quilter calmly jots down watercraft identification numbers and snaps a few photos of the offenders. Like many who have found a glory in this place -- voted as one of America's most pristine habited lakes -- she is not quick to offer complete condemnation of those who choose jet skis and snowmobiles as ways to get in touch with themselves in this natural beauty.





"I would not want to generalize about this broad population, any more than I want someone outside of my community to generalize about me," she states calmly. "I do suspect that someone on a jet ski who spends the entire afternoon racing around in circles in a marshy bay that is inhabited by bald eagles, great blue herons, ducks, geese, moose, deer and myriad other wonderful species is perhaps just a little bit short on observational skills and imagination.





"I would like there to be some hours during the day that are free from the constant whine of two-stroke engines," Quilter states.





Her resort is managed by several family members and friends; Quilter and her husband spend all of July here, having established themselves in Berkeley, Calif., the rest of the year.





But for now, on the hunt for Eurasian milfoil, Quilter rudders back to the largeness of Priest Lake and the Selkirk Mountains as her own anchor in life, as well as her son and daughter's grounding.





"My grandparents and parents have certainly created a legacy in that they built and maintained something that is sensitive to its environment and representative of a time when people traveled more slowly, had occasion to observe more easily and perhaps relaxed in nature with greater ease," says Quilter. "It's my desire to preserve (and restore as need be) our tiny corner of Priest Lake so that those who seek the quiet and solitude of a community such as ours can find it." -- Paul K. Haeder
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