Ada Kills Open Space Funds

Half-million bucks for trails canceled


While Ada County is a signatory to the brand new Boise River Trails System Plan and has committed to a new trailhead along Highway 21, commissioners have pulled back a half-million dollars slated for open space acquisition in the most recent budget.

Last year, the county allocated about $500,000 in Payments in Lieu of Taxes--cash from the federal government paid on federal land within the county--toward open space acquisition and development.

This month, they took the money back and dumped it in the county's general fund.

"It's disappointing for open space in part because now is really the time when local governments have an opportunity to invest in open space," said Tim Breuer, executive director of the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, which works with landowners to preserve open space.

"We recognize also it's a challenging time financially for local governments," Breuer added.

Ada County Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre, who campaigned on a commitment to open space--"The central issues are: open spaces, trails, Greenbelt access, quality of life," Yzaguirre told BW last year--serves as a liaison to the county open space coordinator. He said there may still be some funds available for open space.

"We do have some unencumbered funds if they have a specific project," Yzaguirre said.

"They" is the county's Parks, Open Space and Trails Advisory Board, a panel that formed earlier this year, ostensibly to spend the $500,000 earmarked for open space. The board has met four times and heard pitches from the City of Boise and from various groups, including Breuer's, on potential projects. Board members have not been clear on the status of the open space money.

"For us, if we're going to have meaningful dialogue with landowners, it's important that we're realistic about what kind of resources we can bring to bear," said Paul Woods, chairman of the advisory board and the former county commissioner who pushed open space funding and helped secure the half-million before he was ousted by Commissioner Sharon Ullman in November 2008.

The county has an open space and trails coordinator within the Recreation and Event Services Department, the one department not mandated by Idaho code, says John Caywood, open space and trails coordinator.

"First priority of the county is taking care of what we've got," Caywood said.

Still, Caywood has plans in the works, particularly for the Oregon Trail trailhead on Highway 21 below the Boise River diversion dam. Grants from the Idaho Transportation Department and mitigation funds from the Simplot family dating back to the development of Columbia Village have sat in various coffers for years, slated for an interpretive pull-off and trailhead near the Highway 21 bridge over the Boise River. Two five-mile-long trails to Bonneville Point and along the south side of the river are also planned but require more funding and land access agreements.

The county is also interested in further developing Hubbard Reservoir on 377 acres of state land between Boise and Kuna, and has been working on trails near the county landfill through Ridge to Rivers and the Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association.

The PILT money and much of the county's open space agenda was hashed out in a year-long open space task force, which reported to the county in April 2008. The report recommended forming an advisory committee and listed a large number of possible projects and tools to preserve open space. The Boise River plan, signed earlier this month by each of the cities in Ada and Canyon counties, also recommends an ambitious set of improvements to recreational opportunities along the river.

But all these plans have one thing in common: they cost money.

"To make anything work, you need to invest in it," Breuer said.