Not long ago, only trees dipped their branches into the Boise River where its current swept over a low-head dam downstream of Barber Park-to-Ann Morrison Park.
Then, the overhanging trees acted as strainers, and the dam created a dangerous and mostly unusable water feature. It was a deathtrap, really, with a hidden underwater hole that could suck a person in and never let go, which is what happened to 20-year-old drowning victim Cassie Ray Conley in August 2010.
Now, that part of the river is completely different: It's home to the Boise River Park, which includes a whitewater feature.
"Before this [park] went in, it was kind of a forgotten area. No one thought twice about it," said Walt McBrier, who worked as project manager on the park.
Not only is the area no longer forgotten, it has transcended into a community gathering place—one that's especially appealing for folks like McBrier. He discovered Idaho through a series of whitewater paddling trips and eventually moved only six blocks away from the then-dangerous low-head dam. He envisioned something better.
After helping to create, plan and build the adjustable wave that is the centerpiece of the BRP, McBrier bikes down three times a week during the summer, with his surfboard and his stout little play boat loaded on his bike trailer. He taught his wife to paddle and can't wait to get his toddler son on the river for the first time this summer.
"This is going to be a family love," McBrier said. "For the rest of our lives."
Boise River Park, near Quinn's Pond, has revitalized the area beyond the waterway, as well. Bike commuters stop to watch kayakers and surfers from the repaved Greenbelt. Families picnic among strategically placed rocks while their kids swim in the eddies. Triathletes train in wetsuits, swimming the length of the pond while folks attempt yoga on stand up paddle boards.
And a new five-lane road, dubbed Whitewater Park Boulevard, supports 30,000 cars a day. Local business Idaho River Sports made the gamble to move to the once-desolate area a decade ago, waiting for this change—it paid off.