For the summer 2012 issue of Sun Valley Guide magazine, on the 40th anniversary of the SNRA’s founding, Cannady and Western Perspective Principal Greg Stahl joined forces to retell the story of how Idaho’s most prized landscape was preserved.

Ed Cannady walks on the shoulders of giants.

Sculpted lean by decades of backcountry travel, he’s a man with a passion for Idaho’s celebrated Sawtooth National Recreation Area that weaves through the fabric of who he is.

As the SNRA’s backcountry recreation manager, Cannady has what he calls “an intense 40-year relationship” with the SNRA’s craggy mountains and swift-running streams. What he won’t say is that he knows the SNRA’s subtleties and struggles as well as anyone. He arrived for a backpacking trip in 1973, a year after the 756,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land were protected, and his heart has been struck through with the place ever since.

“I wasn’t born in this place, but I was born for this place,” Cannady said. “There’s never been a doubt. When I go there and find a nice spot with a view or flowers or whatever, I’m able to slow down, breathe and slow my pace a little bit. There’s a magic quality to that. These places make me want to be better than I am.”

“Better than I am.” A humble man and his place. A place that’s an awful lot better than it might have been.

And that has everything to do with the giants on whose shoulders Cannady walks. Forty years ago this August their efforts fell short of creating Idaho’s only national park while succeeding at protecting 756,000 acres of timelessly beautiful mountains, rivers and ranchland as Idaho’s first national recreation area. In the annals of the United States’ well-documented legacy of public land conservation, they’re some of the most monumental unsung heroes of their time.

“They’re the nobility here,” Cannady said. “I’m just trying to be worthy of their efforts.”

  • Click here to see Cannady’s photographs and read the story, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.
  • Click here to read the sidebar, How a Photographer Saved a Mountain.