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Sam Hatch finishes up work on a cable line for Zip the Snake Thursday near Centennial Waterfront Park in Twin Falls.

Float down the river or sail through the air — AWOL ramps up for summer fun in the canyon

TWIN FALLS — Paul Melni jumped at the chance to manage more recreational activities in the Snake River Canyon. But when Zip the Snake had its annual inspection March 21, things didn’t go as well as he’d hoped.

Two of the four zip lines failed the inspection. And on top of it, much of the equipment was no longer under warranty.

“I watched as the inspector threw away 32 of these $180 trolleys,” Melni said. “I get to invest in buying new ones.”


New cable is installed along the Zip the Snake course Thursday near Centennial Waterfront Park in Twin Falls.

Melni, the owner of AWOL Adventure Sports, was granted a two-year contract to manage the Zip the Snake zip lines near Canyon Springs Golf Course. While he didn’t expect to have to sink that much cash into the operation right from the get-go, Melni is still eager to take on the new challenge.

One of his ultimate goals, he said, is to make zip lining and river recreation more accessible and affordable for locals and tourists alike.

“We are dropping the price drastically on this,” he said. “We have two super awesome things in the canyon that our locals don’t take advantage of. We’re going to be offering zip lining and kayaking combos this summer.”

The Snake River Canyon has long been a major draw in south-central Idaho for sightseers. But another big lure for tourism is the recreational opportunities within the canyon: kayaking, paddleboarding, rock climbing and zip lining. Southern Idaho Tourism Director Melissa Barry sees water sports in particular as a bright spot for the future of Twin Falls tourism.

“It’s going to be kind of the benchmark of our campaign this year,” she said. “The paddleboarding and the kayaking is continuously growing.”

AWOL Adventure Sports is in its third season of renting watercraft out of Centennial Park. Last year, the vendor sold 8,400 rentals with 60 boats in the Snake River. Melni fully expects this year to hit 10,000 guests.

While kayak rentals have already begun, they won’t be in full swing until temperatures reach 65 degrees and above. The zip lines, meanwhile, are scheduled to open by the end of the month with a brand-new management team and set of equipment. And with luck, locals and tourists can also look forward to a pontoon boat tour coming later this summer.

Zip the Snake

A local partnership group called Magic Valley Flight Simulation opened Zip the Snake in 2012. The four zip lines have offered more than 13,000 rides, and two of them were at the end of their life, partner Jody Tatum said. The longest line, which stretches 1,750 feet, was still in good condition.

Up until now, the ownership group had been running zip line operations all on its own. But since all six owners had other businesses and jobs, keeping regular hours down in the canyon was a challenge. One person was handling all the reservations.

“The daily operations were more than we could handle,” Tatum said. “It was just too much for one person.”

In November, the partners approached AWOL Adventure Sports to see if Melni would be interested in a management contract. He eagerly signed on for two years.

After that initial two-year timeframe, Tatum and her partners have even bigger plans for Zip the Snake. A 3,900-foot line will go in, stretching along the canyon wall from the Perrine Coulee waterfall to a path alongside the Twin Falls Visitor Center.

“It will be pretty close to the longest in the United States,” Tatum said.

Zip the Snake has already restored an old stagecoach road at the waterfall, she said, and local history is incorporated into the zip line tour.


Brycen Hale with CLAS Ropes Course, installs new cable for Zip the Snake Thursday near Centennial Waterfront Park in Twin Falls.

The new equipment Melni brings in this year will make the zip line rides will be faster than before. Melni wants more local residents to take advantage of the zip lines, so he is lowering the price from $65 per person to $48 per person.

“We’re going to have locals days throughout the summer,” he said.

On these days, locals will have special discounts. All summer long, people who combine the zip line tour with boat rentals will also get a discount.

Typically, it takes a group of people about two hours to ride the four zip lines and learn about local history and geology, Melni said. The zip line will be open year-round, with hot chocolate served during the winter.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, walk-up customers are welcome to make arrangements at the business’ seasonal kiosk in Centennial Park. Large groups should make reservations.

On the day of their appointment, groups will meet at the Zip the Snake check-in office at the Canyon Springs Golf Course clubhouse.

In the off-season, Zip the Snake will be open seven days a week by reservation. Information: Call 208-420-2065 or visit

Pontoon boat rides

Magic Valley Flight Simulation also saw a need for another way to enjoy the canyon and the river.

“We had people who were not excited about doing the physical stuff,” Tatum said. “People will have a chance to get out on the river without being physically challenged.”

The company’s outfitters license allowed it to bring in a pontoon boat last year. The boat provided some educational tours for up to 16 people at a time — but these guided tours were infrequent.

Melni’s main focus right now is getting the zip lines up and running. But if everything runs smoothly, AWOL could begin hosting guided tours down the river to Pillar Falls. Tatum thinks these tours could also include catered meals and fishing.


Paul Melni with AWOL points along the zip line Thursday near Centennial Waterfront Park in Twin Falls.

For now, Melni is just trying to stay afloat with getting all his staff hired, trained and certified with the kayaks and zip line. Of AWOL’s 19 employees from last year, 12 are returning — and getting raises, he said. The business plans to bring on 25 to 28 full-time employees this summer.

“We think we’ll need at least six to eight people just to help with the zip line,” Melni said.

Madison Vitek, a sophomore at the University of Idaho, has been working for AWOL since her senior year of high school. The company has had rapid success, she said. Last year, AWOL not only increased its fleet at Centennial Park but opened a dive and kayak shop in town.

Vitek begins her training in May and will help manage the zip line crew over the summer. After Memorial Day, AWOL will be open down in Centennial Park seven days a week.

“We’re just such a fun-loving crew and we try to bring joy wherever we can,” she said. “It’s long hours and it’s hot, but I’ve never had a bad day there.”


New cable is installed along the Zip the Snake course Thursday near Centennial Waterfront Park in Twin Falls.

Twin Falls man arrested on charges he sexually abused children

TWIN FALLS — A Twin Falls man is accused of sexually abusing multiple children over a period of several years.

Shawn Hatfield, 42, was arrested Friday for lewd conduct, sexual abuse of a minor child, and battery with intent to commit a serious felony, according to a police statement.

Multiple children have been identified as victims in the investigation, Lt. Terry Thueson said, although he was unable to say how exactly how many. The investigation is still ongoing.

Thueson said the case will span back “a number of years,” with some of the crimes recent and some “not so recent.”

Hatfield has lived in Twin Falls for roughly six years, according to police. Before that, he lived in California and Nevada.

The Twin Falls Police Department is asking anybody with information on Hatfield to call Detective Rick Van Vooren at 208-735-7200.

Trump, China escalate trade dispute as markets tumble

WASHINGTON — Unwilling to yield, President Donald Trump and China’s government escalated their trade clash Friday, with Beijing vowing to “counterattack with great strength” if Trump follows through on threats to impose tariffs on an additional $100 billion in Chinese goods.

Trump made his out-of-the-blue move when China threatened to retaliate for the first round of tariffs planned by the United States. But for someone who has long fashioned himself as a master negotiator, Trump left it unclear whether he was bluffing or willing to enter a protracted trade war pitting the world’s two biggest economies against each other, with steep consequences for consumers, businesses and an already shaken stock market.

“They aren’t going to bully him into backing down,” said Stephen Moore, a former Trump campaign adviser who is now a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He said the Chinese “are going to have to make concessions — period.”

The White House sent mixed signals on Friday as financial markets slid from investor concern about a significant trade fight. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC he was “cautiously optimistic” that the U.S. and China could reach an agreement before any tariffs are implemented but added, “there is the potential of a trade war.”

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters the U.S. was “not in a trade war,” adding, “China is the problem. Blame China, not Trump.”

Trump’s latest proposal intensified what was already shaping up to be the biggest trade battle for more than a half century. The U.S. bought more than $500 billion in goods from China last year and now is planning or considering penalties on some $150 billion of those imports. The U.S. sold about $130 billion in goods to China in 2017 and faces a potentially devastating hit to its market there if China responds in kind.

Global financial markets have fallen sharply as the world’s two biggest economies squared off — the Dow Jones industrial average sank 572 points Friday.

Trump told advisers Thursday he was unhappy with China’s decision to tax $50 billion in American products, including soybeans and small aircraft, in response to a U.S. move this week to impose tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods.

Rather than waiting weeks for the U.S. tariffs to be implemented, Trump backed a plan by Robert Lighthizer, his trade representative, and was encouraged by Peter Navarro, a top White House trade adviser, to seek the enhanced tariffs, upping the ante.

White House chief of staff John Kelly and Mnuchin concurred with the move, as did Kudlow, who traveled with the president to West Virginia.

China said negotiations were impossible under the circumstances but Trump officials said the president and his team remained in contact with President Xi Jinping and expressed hope to him of resolving the dispute through talks. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the two sides remained in “routine contact.”

In Beijing, a Commerce Ministry spokesman said China doesn’t want a trade war — but isn’t afraid to fight one.

“If the U.S. side announces the list of products for $100 billion in tariffs, the Chinese side has fully prepared and will without hesitation counterattack with great strength,” spokesman Gao Feng said. He gave no indication what measures Beijing might take.

Trump has also pushed for a crackdown on China’s theft of U.S. intellectual property, and he criticized the World Trade Organization, an arbiter of trade disputes, in a tweet Friday for allegedly favoring China. Trump asserted the WTO gives the Asian superpower “tremendous perks and advantages, especially over the U.S.”

U.S. officials have played down the threat of a broader trade dispute, saying a negotiated outcome is still possible. But economists warn that the tit-for-tat moves bear the hallmarks of a classic trade rift that could keep growing. Worry is intensifying among Republicans, who traditionally have favored liberalized trade.

“The administration needs to be thinking about the unintended consequences and what are those ripple effects, those domino effects, and what are the retaliatory actions that are likely to be taken,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, in an interview with KDLT-TV in Sioux Falls.

The standoff over the trade penalties began last month when the U.S. slapped tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. China countered by announcing tariffs on $3 billion worth of U.S. products. The next day, the United States proposed the $50 billion in duties on Chinese imports, and Beijing lashed back within hours with a threat of further tariffs of its own.

Further escalation could be in the offing. The U.S. Treasury is working on plans to restrict Chinese technology investments in the United States. And there’s talk that the U.S. could also put limits on visas for Chinese who want to visit or study in this country.

Kudlow told reporters the U.S. may provide a list of suggestions to China “as to what we would like to have come out of this,” and those issues were under discussion.

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: Jon and Jenni Jacobson will perform acoustical music from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Brickhouse, 516 Hansen St. S., Twin Falls.


CSI circles around home plate after a home run against Salt Lake Community College Friday at CSI in Twin Falls.

ISP: Troopers still working on notifying family of driver in Monday interstate fatality

HEYBURN — State police are still working to notify the family of the driver of a semi-truck that crashed through a railing on the overpass on Interstate 84, exit 211 on Monday.

The truck landed on a car on Idaho 24 below and became an inferno stretching across the highway, according to witnesses.

“We haven’t completed the family notification yet,” said Lt. Robert Rausch, with the Idaho State Police. “We had to do some comparison work due to the crash.”

“We are not 100 percent what happened and we may never be sure,” Rausch said. “We are looking into the possibility of medical issues.”

The semi took out a chunk of the westbound railing before it crashed to the highway below.

The semi landed on the state highway, hitting a 1997 GMC pickup driven by Gregory Grove, 63, of Albion. He was not seriously injured.

Witnesses attempted to help, but the fire spread across the highway before they could approach.

The crash remains under investigation by ISP.

Crackin’ the code: Declo students learn computer programming

DECLO — Declo Junior High School Teacher Kathy Bennett is making sure all seventh graders at her school have an introduction to computer programming.

“This is all about problem-solving, and it’s what the workforce will demand from these kids,” Bennett said.

On April 6, Bennett’s class learned how to program code into the computer to make animated figures called sprites move. Seventh-grader Collin Wells toggled between computer screens typing in commands and then watching how the command animated a bee on his screen.

Laurie Welch Times-News / LAURIE WELCH, TIMES-NEWS  

Declo Junior High School seventh grader Collin Wells uses coding to animate a bee during class on Friday.

“I really like this class because we get to learn how to really use the computer,” Wells said.

By the end of the course section, the students will develop a simple video game.

“If you would have said to me five years ago that I’d be teaching computer science, I’d have said, no way,” Bennett said.

Bennett, who piloted the curriculum in her class last year, is one of a handful of Idaho teachers to utilize the refined version of the Computer Science Discoveries class this year.

“It’s mandatory for seventh graders at this school,” Bennett said. “I felt it was vital for these students to be introduced to it.”

The Idaho Legislature unanimously passed H648 this session, which will go into effect on July 1 that mandates all Idaho high schools offer at least one computer science course to students in grades 9-12 starting in 2020.

Bennett said children as young as kindergarten can begin learning simplistic versions of computer programming.

“I’ve used it with my grandson,” she said. “You don’t want to bombard them but they can learn some of the basics.”

According to, woman and minorities are poorly represented in computer science fields.

In Idaho, there are 1,422 open computing jobs and the average salary for the occupation is $71,648, which is higher than the average state salary of $41,910. Idaho had only 333 computer science graduates in 2015—only 13 percent were female.

“It’s fun to learn new stuff,” Declo seventh-grader Lorelie Dayle said. “If I have to create a website, later on, I will know how.”

In the class, Dayley was most surprised by how easy she found it.

Laurie Welch Times-News / LAURIE WELCH, TIMES-NEWS  

Kathy Bennett, computer science teacher at Declo Junior High School, helps seventh grader Fernando Garcia solve a problem during the preliminary stages of developing a video game on Friday.

In Bennett’s class, students progress through units that teach problem-solving, web development and interactive games and animations. Other units include design process, data and society and physical computing.

In the past, computer students spent any computer time mainly performing keyboard activities, Bennett said.

Para-educator Amy Schenk said Bennett’s class uses a different way of thinking.

“It makes them think out of the box,” Schenk said. “There is a lot of work that goes into it that many people don’t realize.”

Bennett said it is vital for students today to learn computer programming skills.

“It is the future and it is what all the jobs will be,” Bennett said. offers the curriculum and professional development for teachers for free. Teacher training is also available through the STEM Action Center, which partners with