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Snowshoeing to the Idaho City backcountry yurts.

Featured Article

Working Outside the Box

Meet DeEtta Petersen: The Yurt Girl

Article by Chelsea Chambers

Photography by Chelsea Chambers, Scott Gregoire, IDPR, Erik Ryan

Originally published in Boise Lifestyle

It’s early morning and a blustery 25 degrees outside. The wind rips through the snow-capped pines of the Boise National Forest. DeEtta Petersen dons four layers of clothing, a winter coat, and snowshoes and straps a 50-pound pulk to her waist in preparation her journey to the Idaho City Backcountry Yurts. She is hauling toilet paper, cleaning supplies, a few tools, and snacks to get through the next couple of days in the mountains.   

“I guess it really is the challenge of it all that I like so much,” DeEtta shared. “I love being outside. I love that I can go to work and get a solid day’s worth of exercise. That’s what makes this so well-suited for me. I like using power tools, chainsaws, riding motorcycles, lifting logs and repairing what needs to be repaired. But really what it is, at the end of the day I feel like I did a good job.”

The value of a hard day’s work was instilled into DeEtta and her five siblings from a young age. In her earlier stages of life, her father ran a successful vegetable farm in Walla Walla, Washington where there was never a shortage of tasks for able-bodied children. “We topped onions, tromped spinach, weeded carrots, and set sprinklers. I even ran a dump truck once. Basically, whatever Dad asked us to do, we did.”

After college, DeEtta worked in a variety of different fields including property management and fitness modeling. She was an MMA Gym Manager and always gravitated toward vocations that kept her active.

In the early 2000s, DeEtta sought a change and was pulled toward Idaho’s beautiful natural landscapes and endless recreational opportunities. “When I moved here, I came with a pair of tennis shoes, a bicycle and a motorcycle and figured that would cover all my bases. Oh, and a pair of skis!”

With her skis in tow, DeEtta found her way to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, where she’s worked for the last 12 years. When the Yurt Coordinator position opened up, she jumped at the chance. She now spends her days hiking and snowshoeing the trails of the Boise National Forest, outside Idaho City. Her weekly 3-day trips can accumulate up to 11 miles, “and depending on which yurt I am doing maintenance on, elevation gain on these hikes in the winter can be up to 1,000 feet.”

She works long hours, about 10 – 12 hours a day. In the winter months, the yurts can only be accessed by snowshoe or cross-country skis and are heated solely by woodstoves. As you can imagine, a winter’s worth of woodstove use requires quite the lofty pile of wood. Between the six yurts DeEtta manages, they go through more than 120,000 pounds of wood per year. Luckily, she has a dedicated group of volunteers that spend their summer days helping her split all this wood. “I have a super amazing summer hire crew to help me with our program. Collecting six to eight cords of wood for each yurt consumes a huge part of our summer, and consists of tree felling, liming, bucking, loading, delivering, and stacking rounds of wood at the yurts to prepare for our infamous ‘wood-splitting events.’  These volunteers also assist with repairs and maintenance of the yurts, trail assessments and clearing, and any other surprises that may arise. Without them, this program just wouldn’t work.”

“One time, I was hauling a 50-pound pulk up to the yurts with a volunteer to replace solar panel batteries when we got hit with a snowstorm. We had to break trail the entire time, drudging through snow up to our knees. It became a three-hour trek for 0.7 of a mile!” DeEtta said, laughing as she reminisced this day. “It’s a definite challenge but I get to work with cool people doing cool things that really matter to the state of Idaho. It’s kind of like breaking out of the box, ya know?”

At 62, DeEtta knows that retirement is only a few years away, although that doesn’t mean she’ll be slowing down any time soon. “My objective is to pass the baton to my predecessor with the yurt program being in the best condition that I can legitimately have it in. I want to stay young and play hard, for as long as I can. I look forward to retiring, where I can come back as a volunteer and help with other yurt programs across the state. I plan to ski a lot, ride a lot, and explore as much as possible. For more information, visit

  • Snowshoeing to the Idaho City backcountry yurts.
  • Idaho City Yurts
  • Idaho City yurts
  • A day in the life of DeEtta Petersen--the Yurt Girl!
  • DeEtta in her work truck
  • It's important to make sure her equipment is well-maintained.
  • DeEtta in her work garage
  • "I really enjoy working with power tools." - DeEtta
  • "I really enjoy working with power tools." - DeEtta
  • "I really enjoy working with power tools." - DeEtta
  • DeEtta in her work garage