What lies beneath

Longtime diver reclaims logs in Swan River

Print Article

  • Jody Bakker salvages logs from the Swan River near Ferndale on Thursday, April 26. (Brenda Ahearn photos/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Two logs in the Swan River.

  • 2

    Bakker in his diving gear.

  • 3

    Logs salvaged by Jody Bakker at his home near Echo Lake.

  • 4

    The salvaged logs are cut into lumber.

  • 5

    Jody Bakker preparing for a dive on Thursday, April 26, near Ferndale.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 6

    Logs salvaged by Jody Bakker at his home near Echo Lake. Bakker said the wood pulls in minerals and colors while submerged.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 7

    Jody Bakker preparing for a dive on Thursday, April 26, near Ferndale.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 8

    Jody Bakker has a table and bench he made from wood he had salvaged in his home near Echo Lake.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Jody Bakker salvages logs from the Swan River near Ferndale on Thursday, April 26. (Brenda Ahearn photos/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 1

    Two logs in the Swan River.

  • 2

    Bakker in his diving gear.

  • 3

    Logs salvaged by Jody Bakker at his home near Echo Lake.

  • 4

    The salvaged logs are cut into lumber.

  • 5

    Jody Bakker preparing for a dive on Thursday, April 26, near Ferndale.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 6

    Logs salvaged by Jody Bakker at his home near Echo Lake. Bakker said the wood pulls in minerals and colors while submerged.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 7

    Jody Bakker preparing for a dive on Thursday, April 26, near Ferndale.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 8

    Jody Bakker has a table and bench he made from wood he had salvaged in his home near Echo Lake.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Rivers are a lot like people, Jody Bakker suggests.

On the surface, the water can appear serenely calm. Underneath the surface, in the heart of a river, is where the action is.

“There’s stuff moving — currents, fish,” Bakker mused. Underneath is where the treasures lie.

These days Bakker is a one-man band, so to speak, in his diving operation to salvage logs that were destined for the sawmill at Somers more than a century ago.

“It’s old-growth timber that you can’t find in the woods anymore,” Bakker pointed out. The tight grain of the wood makes it sought-after for flooring, wallboards and table tops.

“It cures underwater and pulls in minerals and colors” to give the wood a unique look, he added.

During a log salvaging operation in Flathead Lake that Bakker participated in a few years ago, one of the logs was dated to 1538. After a lengthy debate and legal battle over ownership of the sunken logs, North Shore Development began the Flathead Lake log salvage work about five years ago, pulling century-old logs that have languished in Somers Bay since the early 1900s. The reclamation work was fairly short-lived, though. Bakker was one of the divers who helped retrieve logs; he worked on and off on the project for three years. The Flathead Lake salvage operation was averaging 40 to 50 logs a day, Bakker estimated, but North Shore Development shut down the log retrieval in 2015.

Bakker wanted to continue salvaging logs. The Swan River seemed like a plum spot. He’d flown over the river and had seen firsthand the sunken treasury of logs remaining on the river bottom.

“I saw great opportunity,” he said.

In the early 1900s logs were moved from Swan Lake along the Swan River in what became a kind of “river highway” for the logging industry, according to a Swan Lake history written by Edmund Craney and Martha Craney Wiberg.

“In the spring, during the early rush of water towards the sea, the logs were rolled into the river,” the historians wrote. “They usually floated down the river with no stoppage. It was as the water started to recede that jams occurred more frequently.”

Inevitably, some of the logs became waterlogged and sank.

When Bakker couldn’t muster interest among other divers to salvage river logs, he met with state officials by himself and had a permit within three months.

He is permitted to retrieve logs on a stretch of the Swan River in the Ferndale area.

Diving alone more or less “breaks all the rules,” he admitted. “As long as you know your limits … the secret is self-rescue.”

Bakker is careful and methodical in his diving, and relishes the solitude of underwater work.

“I love the peace,” he said. “It’s neat down there. [The water] almost has a spirit.”

Bakker doesn’t use a motorboat during his salvaging.

“I don’t want to interfere with recreation, so I dive in the fall and winter, and early spring, to keep everyone happy,” he said.

He also leaves any gnarled logs or log clusters to retain the fish habitat.

Bakker, 56, would like to one day quit his day job — he owns an excavating business, Bakker’s Bobcat Works — and focus exclusively on salvaging logs.

“My goal is to just do this,” he said about diving as he geared up on a recent rainy day on the Swan River.

Bakker has another part-time gig. He runs the karaoke sessions at the Rainbow Bar in Evergreen two nights a week. That was his wife Kristy’s idea. Kristy passed away from cancer five years ago, but he kept going with the karaoke.

He tells people his life revolves around three Ds: “Digging, diving and deejaying.”

Since becoming a certified diver in 2005, Bakker has brought up all kinds of things from lake and river bottoms.

He dove for and actually found a woman’s wedding ring in less than a minute when he saw a faint flicker.

Bakker has done underwater pump work, and last year he helped locate the historic Kee-O-Mee houseboat that sank in 1937 in Somers Bay.

He’ll dive anywhere, for anything. Bakker even brings his dive gear when he goes to Havre, where he graduated from high school in 1978. But rivers are his favorite spots for an underwater excursion.

“You never know what you’ll find around the next bend.” he said.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

Print Article

Read More Front Page Slider

Libby Asbestos Response Plan Response outlined for wildfires at vermiculite mine site

October 19, 2017 at 6:02 pm | Daily Inter Lake A new emergency response plan for wildfires at or near the former W.R. Grace & Co. vermiculite mine got a test run during the recent fire season, even though the West Fork Fire was some 6 miles a...

Comments

Read More

Timber Tour highlights bright spots in industry

October 19, 2017 at 6:02 pm | Daily Inter Lake More than 30 hard-hat wearing locals climbed out of a bus in front of F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. Thursday afternoon. Trucks stacked high with behemoth logs chugged past the visitors, who assemb...

Comments

Read More

Kalispell couple adjusts to life after Las Vegas tragedy

October 18, 2017 at 6:44 pm | Daily Inter Lake It took Stephanie Franklin about a week before she could open the suitcase she brought home from Las Vegas. She didn’t want to see her dirty clothes from lying on the ground. She didn’t want to see...

Comments

Read More

Efrons tackle Glacier Park for Columbia commercial

October 17, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Daily Inter Lake Hollywood heartthrob Zac Efron and his younger brother, Dylan Efron, paid a visit to Glacier National Park in June to shoot a commercial for Columbia Sportswear, that was released last week. Efron, 2...

Comments

Read More

Contact Us

(406) 755-7000
727 East Idaho
Kalispell, MT 59901

©2017 Daily Inter Lake Terms of Use Privacy Policy
X
X