Back in 2003, Keith Lannom and his girlfriend Karen Owens joined some friends to float the Main Salmon River. After an enjoyable river trip, they stopped in McCall. Standing in Rotary Park, admiring the stunning view of Payette Lake and surrounding mountains, Lannom said to Owens, “I think I could live here.”
First impressions are powerful, and sometimes wishes do come true. On July 3, 2011, the couple – now married with a four year old son – arrived in McCall so that Lannom could start his new job as the Payette National Forest Supervisor. Lannom admits to some shock when, driving into town that Sunday—the day before the July Fourth holiday—there were people everywhere and slow-moving traffic on Third Street through downtown. “I thought I was moving to a small town,” he laughs now, unaware at the time how the town’s population surges over a holiday weekend.
Lannom indulged an early interest in forests by obtaining two degrees in forestry at Mississippi State University, a bachelors and a masters. His masters studies focused on satellite imagery used to map vegetation in forests. His first job with the Forest Service was with the Southern Research Station in Starkville, Mississippi as a remote sensing analyst using satellite images taken across the United States to record and map vegetation in national forests. This was 1992-1996, early in the use of such technology.
After a brief break from the Forest Service to work as a consultant doing similar work – a job that would take him to Portland, Oregon, Atlanta and Salt Lake City—Lannom returned to the Forest Service in 1999 in Salt Lake City to continue his remote sensing work but shifting to using satellite imagery to map active wildfires and post-wildfire effects.
It was while working in Salt Lake City in 2001 that Lannom met his wife.
As often happens with Forest Service employees climbing the career ladder, the Lannoms moved to new locations a few times before settling in McCall. In 2005, Lannom became District Ranger on the Cherokee National Forest in east Tennessee, a post that for the Tennessee native felt like coming home. Lannom fondly remembers working out of an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp building deep in the forest; he has a photo of the building on his office wall. The Lannoms’ son Bryce was born during their time in Tennessee.
Soon the family was off to a new post: the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, where Lannom was the Deputy Forest Supervisor. The White Mountains is home to Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington, known for having some of the harshest winter weather in the continental United States in terms of bitter cold and high winds, a place on many east coast skiers’ bucket because of the challenge of hiking up before skiing down in the harsh spring conditions. Lannom says he never did ski Tuckerman Ravine, but has a photo of a snow-covered Mount Washington on his office wall.
When an opening as Payette National Forest District Supervisor came open, Lannom felt the pull created by those memories from his visit to Idaho in 2003. Selected for the job, he felt he’d won the lottery. When the Lannoms moved here in 2011, Bryce was four years old; this is where most of his childhood memories have formed, and is the place the entire family now considers home. Lannom has no plans to leave anytime soon. “We are very happy here,” he says. There are still things he’d like to accomplish, and the mountain lifestyle suits him and his family.
Lannom ran cross country and played soccer in high school. He didn’t run much while in college, but by the time he landed his Forest Service job in Tennessee, he was ready to start running again, and discovered the joys of trail running. While living and working in New Hampshire, he ran his first trail race, the Mud, Muck and Moose run where entrants predict their finishing time over the roughly eight mile course, watches forbidden; closest prediction wins. It was muddy, and Lannom was hooked. Arriving in McCall, he was pleasantly surprised not only with the easy access to trails for running, but the budding trail running community. In 2014, to foster a way for others who enjoyed trail running to meet and share their passion for the sport, Lannom created the McCall Trail Running Facebook page where anyone can post photos from their runs, note current trail conditions, seek advice, discuss upcoming races or share event results. His initial goal was to encourage a local trail running community that would communicate with each other while growing in number, and he has succeeded. Through the Facebook group, Lannom schedules weekly Tuesday evening runs in Ponderosa State Park to bring local and visiting runners together during the summer months. “It’s the things that anyone can participate in that create community,” Lannom says, explaining what motivated him to create the group. Lannom considers working with local communities a significant part of his job as forest supervisor, and creating a forum for local and visiting runners is one way to meet that objective while also indulging one of his own passions.
Trail running is a family affair with the Lannoms. Karen Lannom often supports her husband at races, and last year for Father’s Day gave him a Spot personal tracker so that he can alert her should something unexpected happen on one of his long—and sometimes solo—training runs in the forest. Bryce, now ten, ran his first trail race earlier this year, the Ponderosa Park Run four mile race, coming across the finish line with some of his friends. “He’s a budding trail runner,” Lannom says with a smile.
Lannom enters local trail races, including the McCall Trailrunning Classic, a July race offering 10, 20 and 40 mile distances that starts and finishes at Jug Mountain Ranch. Having completed the 20-mile race four times and the 40-mile race in 2015, Lannom had his first-ever DNF (did not finish) in the 40-miler this year, dropping at the 17-mile point because of lack of training. Injuries from earlier in the training season – a knee that didn’t appreciate his 12-hour run at the Sharlie Shuffle in Ponderosa State Park in May where he covered roughly 43 miles, and a turned ankle three weeks prior to the Classic—impeded his training and his race, convincing him the best option was to drop out and save his legs for another day.
After some consideration—admitting it’s hard to choose among so many wonderful options—Lannom offered his favorite local route for trail running: putting together the Twentymile, Snowslide, and East Fork Lake Fork trails for a one-way 25-mile adventure. Starting from the Twentymile trailhead off Warren Wagon Road near Upper Payette Lake and running southeast to the East Fork Lake Forest trailhead, the route is relatively flat most of the way, making for easy running, but Lannom especially appreciates the challenging two thousand feet of elevation gained over roughly two miles on the climb up Snowslide mountain, followed by a gentle downhill on the other side toward the finish. Lucky for Lannom, he has trail running friends, and an understanding spouse, to accompany him and provide the shuttle to retrieve his car back at the start when the run is done. Lannom shares his trail running routes and the trail conditions he encounters along with photos on the McCall Trail Runners Facebook page as well as on the Trail Run Project website, providing all trail users valuable and current information as they plan their own adventures.
Lannom’s short term running goal: run a 50-miler in the next year, to celebrate turning fifty in 2018. Lannom doesn’t care whether it’s an official event or a route he designs himself and runs with friends and support from his family. Lannom is discovering what long distance trail runners before him have had to admit: distance running, especially on trails in a place as beautiful as the Payette National Forest, is addicting. Maybe there’s a 100-miler in his future.
It’s refreshing and inspiring to know our Payette National Forest Supervisor is keen on recreating in the land he manages and protects for the benefit of us all, that he’s actually out there on a regular basis observing and getting to know it firsthand and up close. Seeing the supervisor of McCall’s recreational “back yard” also engaged in real ways in the community – coaching kids’ soccer, creating a local trail running group, participating in local athletic events—demonstrates his commitment to his job as well as to this place he and his family consider home and hope to continue calling home for some time to come.
You can find the McCall Trail Running group on Facebook.[Cover image: Snowslide Lake, Keith Lannom photo.]