BOISE — One of the newest coins in the U.S. Mint’s America the Beautiful series honors a renowned Idaho wilderness area.
But there is just one problem.
The U.S. Mint is marketing it as the “Frank Church River of No Return” quarter, but the coin itself does not contain the words “Frank Church.”
On its website, the U.S. Mint explains why the Idaho wilderness area was chosen for the series and why the area is named after Church: “The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho is made up of rugged mountains, deep canyons, and wild whitewater rivers, including the Main Salmon River and Middle Fork of the Salmon River. ‘Frank Church’ was attached to the site’s name in honor of late U.S. Senator Frank Church, who played a leading role in its preservation.”
In its product catalog, news releases and budget briefs, the U.S. Mint refers to the coin as the “Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness quarter.”
The only place the words “Frank Church” appear to be omitted is on the coin itself. So why is that the case?
The offices of Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and Rep. Mike Simpson, each said on Monday that they were unaware Church’s name did not appear on the coin.
“You are the first to make us aware of this omission,” said Simpson’s office.
“We’re not sure why Sen. Church’s name was not included but I would certainly have preferred that it be included as Sen. Church was instrumental in conservation both in Idaho and nationwide,” Simpson said in a statement.
All three offices said to ask the U.S. Mint why Church’s name does appear on the quarter.
Thomas Johnson, U.S. Mint chief of corporate communications, told the Statesman on Tuesday that “space played a role in what could physically be included in the coin’s reverse design.”
“Discussions with our liaisons from the Wilderness and those from the Idaho Governor’s Office resulted in agreement regarding the inscription on the coin,” Johnson said via email. Because of limited space in the border on the reverse of the coin, “Wilderness” instead of “Frank Church” was incorporated into the design, he explained. The U.S. Mint unveiled the final design in August 2018. The quarter is part of America’s Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act of 2008, which authorized one coin for each state, district or territory honoring one of its national or historical parks, or other national amenity. Since 2010, the U.S. Mint has issued five quarters annually.
Idaho’s quarter, the 48th in the series, is set to be released officially on Nov. 4. Other quarters issued in 2019 are: Lowell National Park (Massachuestts), American Memorial Park (Northern Mariana Islands), War in the Pacific National Historical Park (Guam) and San Antonio Missions (Texas).
Affectionately called “The Frank,” the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states was created in 1980 by Congress and renamed in 1984 as the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area in honor of Church, a Democrat who represented Idaho in the U.S. Senate from 1957 to 1981.
While in Congress, Church successfully sponsored several key pieces of wilderness-related legislation, including the Wilderness Act of 1964; the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968; the Sawtooth National Recreation area in 1972; the Endangered Wilderness Act of 1978; and the Central Idaho Wilderness Act of 1980, which created the River of No Return.
In 1984, following news that Church had been diagnosed with cancer, Idaho U.S. Sen. Jim McClure, a Republican, introduced a measure in Congress to honor Church by adding his name to the River of No Return Wilderness.
Less than four weeks after President Ronald Reagan signed the bill, Church died at the age of 59. This is not the first time an Idaho wilderness area renamed to honor a Democrat has made the news. Last year, Sen. Risch took umbrage with the renaming of 90,769 acres of Central Idaho wilderness the Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness, and he briefly held up an omnibus spending bill on the Senate floor in an attempt to remove the renaming provision.
In January, Risch became chairman of U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, a post Church held from 1979-81.