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Evel Knievel Redux: Daredevils Woo Twin Falls To Recreate Canyon Jump

A passel of daredevils aim to succeed where the king of stunt performers once famously failed. They want to attempt Evel Knievel's jump over the Snake River Canyon.

But first, one of the modern stuntmen has to secure the rights to both a launch and a landing spot on opposite sides of the canyon near Twin Falls, Idaho. That has the potential for another wreck in the making -- a bureaucratic wreck.

The story begins with an epic failure in the 1970s. Evel Knievel had proposed his most dramatic stunt yet. He would jump the Grand Canyon. But the National Park Service would have none of it. So Knievel searched for the next best thing and settled on the Snake River Canyon by Twin Falls.

On September 8, 1974, Knievel launched astride his “Skycycle,” a steam powered rocket. But the stunt instantly went awry when a parachute prematurely released.

Evel Knievel emerged from a crash into the canyon bottom with only minor injuries. But the rowdy crowds, motorcycle gangs and unpaid bills left a lasting, sour taste in Twin Falls, says current mayor Greg Lanting.

“We just didn’t have enough officers and security and things in place to protect restaurants and grocery stores and things in that line,” he says.

Over the years, other daredevils -- including Knievel's son -- asked for permission to try the jump again. But the answer always ended up as no. That is until this past year, when the state of Idaho and now the city and counties showed interest.

“They just never came back with enough of a plan like all these groups did to make it happen," explains Lanting. "I think the anniversary galvanized a lot of their ability.”

Next year is the 40th anniversary of Knievel’s failed jump. Seven different entities have now emerged with proposals to jump the three quarter-mile wide canyon. At a special meeting of the Twin Falls City Council Thursday, five presented their plans in hopes of winning an official blessing.

“The brand we are most interested in promoting is the one that is called Twin Falls,” pitched Hud Englehart, a PR man from Chicago.

"I’ve been all over the United States doing this stuff," said Texas stuntman Big Ed Beckley. "Definitely this has been my dream.”

A TV producer named Brad Kuhlman said, “We’re all in our 40s, 50s and 60s. We’ve all been doing this a very long time. We’ve all been able to be safe.”

A couple teams plan to use one-person rocket planes that resemble a modernized version of Evel Knievel’s Skycycle. Two other teams propose souped-up motorcycles with rocket boosters and parachute wings to land with.

One group that stands out is Beckley’s. He’s already forked over nearly $1 million to the State of Idaho to secure an exclusive lease to public land on the north canyon rim. But the City of Twin Falls says it doesn’t have to follow suit.

On top of that, the landing area is in a different county from the launch ramp and now those Jerome County commissioners want a say too. The Federal Aviation Administration may also get involved.

Another jump team warns of a “bureaucratic nightmare.” On Thursday night, local aspirants Scott Truax and Scott Record dramatically withdrew their application to use the original Evel Knievel launch ramp in Twin Falls.

“We didn’t know it was going to be that complicated," Record says. "But we’re not going to be dissuaded or have our plans soured by this process that is happening. So we decided to get our own piece of land – (jump) from private land to private land and leave the City of Twin Falls and State of Idaho behind.”

Record’s company, Omega Point Productions specifies in a written proposal that its historical reenactment would take place roughly eight miles upriver of Knievel’s spot. The canyon dimensions are similar in that rural area.

Twin Falls’ mayor promises to move expeditiously on the other applications. All of the aspiring daredevils warn that time is of the essence. The 40th anniversary of Evel Knievel's failed jump comes at the beginning of September, 2014.

After so many years, sentiment in town seems to have evolved. Emails and testimony from the public is running mostly in favor of staging the jump. Area residents who spoke to the Twin Falls City Council Thursday night were generally supportive of what is expected to be a nationally-televised event.

“There are a lot of good plans. Too bad you can’t have a rocket bus and send all of these guys across,” said Barry Knoblich who lives near the Evel Knievel launch site on the Snake River Canyon rim.

A few people raised concerns about traffic and crowd control. All of the aspiring jump teams say they have extensive experience or will hire an event management partner to stage a “safe and sane” spectacle.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.