Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Idaho Airpark Living

SilverWing at Sandpoint is a gateway to mountain adventure


Idaho is full of interesting destinations that reward pilots with much more than an average $100 hamburger. One example is Cavanaugh Bay. Cava-naugh (FAA identifier, 66S) is a nicely groomed 3,100-foot turf strip that requires rudimentary piloting skills to manage, and is only 17 nm from Sandpoint. Though the field lies at a 2,500-foot elevation, it's wide (120 feet), with an open approach over Priest Lake. The spot is picturesque enough that it merits some 375 aircraft operations a month—quite a number for a mountain strip.

Cavanaugh Bay is tailor-made for camping under the wing. The State of Idaho owns the strip and has taken great care to ensure pilots have a good experience. A tree-sheltered area next to the grass runway accommodates campers, and the field is attended around the clock during summer months. They even have loaner tents, sleeping bags and other camping gear for pilots who forget their own. Probably the best amenities are the hot showers and free firewood! Talk to Allan, the caretaker, for anything. In addition to a former stint as an Elvis impersonator, he's a really nice guy and knows everything about the surrounding area. Like other spots in this aviation-friendly state, pilots are encouraged to explore. It makes me scratch my head why other states don't follow Idaho's example.

A short walk will reward you with some gourmet-class dining and cushy lodging. Just 100 yards from the camping area, on the north end of the strip, beckons Cavanaugh's Restaurant and Lodge. Stop in for a lunch you won't forget, sitting on their wooden deck beneath blood-orange umbrellas set against the deep-blue, crystal waters of Priest Lake. Try the mouthwatering mahi-mahi tacos or the delectable pork-and-seeds, with hot huckle-berry mustard and wasabi sesame seeds. It's no backwater greasy spoon, for sure.

If you can divert your eyes from the postcard vistas over the lake, rent a boat at the marina near the restaurant and take a dip in the refreshing water. Noted for its extremely clear water fed by streams cascading from the high Selkirk peaks, Priest Lake extends north-south about 19 miles, and has lots of quiet coves for swimmers or anglers. If fishing is your thing, mackinaw (lake trout) is the predominate species in Priest Lake. In 1971, someone caught a 57 pounder, so trophy-size fish aren't uncommon.

If you do plan on camping under your wing, you can find groceries in nearby Coolin (take the rental car, it's only a few dollars). From Sandpoint, Cavanaugh Bay is a 20-minute flight, depending on your speed. Announce your position on the CTAF (122.9), and approach over Priest Lake to runway 15. The edges of the strip are marked with white rocks and are easy to see. Though fierce backcountry skills aren't needed to fly into this bucolic spot, that all changes if it's windy. If you have any doubts about your grass-strip skills, grab an instructor at SilverWing FBO at Sandpoint and have them give you a "Cavanaugh 101" tour. It's one of those spots you'll remember long after you push that throttle on your way home.


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