Meet Earl, The Gatekeeper to Paradise

Paradise, population one, is halfway along the Magruder Corridor, one of the roughest roads in the US West. This 163km primitive dirt track winds through the largest wilderness area in the continental US, climbing over steep mountains and crossing snow-fed streams along the Montana and Idaho border.

Along with his dogs, Harrison and Ozzie, 64 year-old Earl is the only permanent resident of this remote outpost during summer. He is the Bitterroot National Forest’s camp host, welcoming the motley crew of hikers, hunters, fishermen and river rafters who brave the bumpy, serpentine road.

While his primary responsibility is handing out permits to boaters on the Selway River, he also doles out free advice on the must-see trails that lace through the wilderness. And if you ply him with a second cup of coffee, he’ll regale you with stories of windsurfing in Puerto Rico, kayaking in New Mexico or a few of his other varied adventures around the globe.

A retired industrial electrician, Earl has spent nearly three decades backpacking the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, often using Paradise as a launch point. On one of his summer trips, the couple who used to host the Paradise campground told Earl they weren’t coming back.

“I asked how to apply for the job, and here I am. Six summers and counting. It’s a dream come true,” Earl said.

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