by Andrew Crisp
Homeowners near the intersection of McMillan and Maple Grove roads have known an empty 54-acre lot as a gravel pit and then an empty lot for years.
But after a ribbon cutting today, the newly completed Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve will serve as a natural stormwater treatment project, nature preserve and city park. Birds, fish and other wildlife will call it simply "home."
"I first wandered into this property with my running shoes on in 1976. I watched as previous owners tried to 'drain the swamp.' We all know it's something better than a swamp now," said land donor Larry Hyatt. "Now, the wildlife have won."
The Hyatt family donated 22 acres of the lot to the City of Boise to help create the reserve, and the city purchased another 22 acres from private landowners. The final 10 acres is owned by the Ada County Highway District, but has been formally tied to the project. The result is a wetlands reserve that also serves as a wildlife sanctuary.
The banks of the reserve's water features are now flooded with cottonwood trees and wetland growth, fading to sagebrush, rabbit brush and other high desert vegetation. But the land is also a functional city park and storm water treatment project, as well.
"It incorporates a sand filter. When water passes through it, it comes out clean, free of motor oil and other pollutants. It flows through the wetlands here, through Thurman Mill drain and finally into the Boise River," said Neal Oldemeyer, director of Boise Public Works Department.
Environmental Protection Agency kicked in $1.3 million, adding to funding from ACHD and the City of Boise for the project. Boise City Council President Mary Ann Jordan said the project could serve as a model for other stormwater treatment projects.
The Hyatt family joined representatives from the city, ACHD, Boise Parks and Recreation Department , local neighborhood associations, Boise Public Works and the Boise Watershed to announce the lot's transformation on a path in the middle of the wetlands.
"Some of the neighbors were concerned about mosquitos," said Jim Wyllie, a Public Works engineer on the project. "I've been coming out here for a while and I've never seen one mosquito. There's a lot of insect eaters out here."
One of those insect eaters received a new home, courtesy Boise artist Mark Baltes. The HaBATat was designed in the style of origami paper art, but made of metal and large enough to house hundreds of bats and their young.
Bats serve a vital role in the wetlands ecology. The wetlands will become the subject of educational opportunities lead by the Boise Watershed, as well as the land's role in water treatment.
To protect growing wildlife in the park, bicycles, dogs, fishing and boating are now prohibited. Signs will be posted to remind visitors about the restrictions.