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WOODLAND, Idaho - The ''No Trespassing'' signs increase with the elevation along the Woodland grade until the tiny development of Almost Heaven, where they seem to mark nearly every house and trailer.
But there are few people to keep out of Almost Heaven these days. Interest in the so-called covenant community tapered off years ago after founder James ''Bo'' Gritz left, and nearby Woodland residents say many of the patriot movement's most vocal members have long since left as well.
''When Bo Gritz left, things kind of settled down,'' said Glenn Simler, a farmer who has lived in the peaceful Quaker settlement of Woodland for all of his 84 years. ''The ones that seemed to be troublemakers took off - I don't really know why. Law enforcement in the area got to them. It just wasn't a place that fit their ideas.''
Almost Heaven started in the early 1990s with just under 1,000 acres on the rim of the plateau overlooking the Clearwater River. Gritz, a former military man who describes himself as the inspiration for ''Rambo,'' envisioned a place where like-minded constitutionalists could live, free from excessive government control and safe from crime and other dangers.
Residents of Almost Heaven would simply have to agree to the community covenant, which required that they be God-fearing Christians who would stand and fight with each other should any resident's constitutional rights be threatened.
Media attention spread news of the effort across the continent, and lots at Almost Heaven soon sold out.
Though at first the region's longtime residents were scared and angered by the influx, live-and-let-live sensibilities prevailed for a time, said Larry Nims, owner of Ida Stone Memorials in nearby Kamiah.
''He really counted on the media attention to sell the property. A lot of people wrote him off as just a salesman and that trivialized it,'' Nims said. ''It took a while to get the prairie people to understand that there were some weirdos in the valley and that they needed to pay attention.''
After all, on the surface the newcomers may not have seemed radically different. The majority of residents were from logging, farming or ranching families, people who used their back to make a living. To them, the newcomers seemed like people who just wanted to build a cabin in the woods and be left alone. And the majority of Almost Heaven residents wanted just that, said Gritz, who now lives in Sandy Valley, Nev.But along with the mild-mannered patriots came those who Gritz calls the ''knots.''Some of those residents filed documents with the Idaho County Courthouse, renouncing their U.S. citizenship and claiming to be ''sovereigns'' of the ''Idaho State Republic.''
Others started a militia group called the Idaho Mountain Boys. The group was later accused of plotting to kill U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, and member and former Almost Home resident Larry Raugust eventually pleaded guilty to 15 counts of making bombs. He was accused of planting land mines around the foreclosed property of a friend near Almost Heaven. Two other militia members were convicted of a 1999 plot to blow up a propane-tank farm near Sacramento, Calif.
Meanwhile, all the media coverage piqued the interest of other extremists who settled around Idaho County, not just at Almost Heaven, Nims said.
''Probably 5 to 10 percent of extremists settled in Grangeville. We've always had a number of ultraconservatives and it's never been threatening. It's a good thing, a balance. But when you get hundreds of them, well, I was heartened to see the county wake up,'' Nims said.
Local residents became more active against the patriot group, joining a loosely organized discussion group started by Nims - the Clearwater Valley Citizens for Human Rights. Area businesses posted signs stating ''No Guns'' after some Almost Heaven residents began toting six-shooters on their hips. Letters were written to local lawmakers and newspapers. Law enforcement agencies became more successful in arresting any lawbreakers in the patriot group.
''A few of us were kind of upset because they upset the apple cart, so to speak,'' Simler said. ''They were kind of belligerent, against government, but other than that just like anybody else. But now it seems that not much has changed because of them. More traffic, but that's about it.''
What about the future of Almost Heaven? Gritz, who now hosts a radio talk show from his Nevada home, won't rule out returning to the development.
''I still think it's the safest place on Earth,'' Gritz said.