- Jessica Murri
- The Ridge to Rivers workshop brought out more than 60 people on Tuesday night to chart the future of the foothills.
Despite having 190 miles of trails to manage with an estimated 400,000 visits per year, the Ridge to Rivers partnership has never had a management plan—until now.
The partnership includes the city of Boise, Ada County, Bureau of Land Management, Boise National Forest, and Idaho Department of Fish and Game, managing the foothills trails stretching from Highway 55 to Highway 21.
On the evening of Nov. 17, they called upon the public to help chart the 10-year course for the Boise Foothills.
More than 60 people surrounded large tables of maps and markers at the Boise Train Depot while Ridge to Rivers staff opened the workshop with an explanation of why a management plan is so important.
"We've been reactive," said David Gordon, Ridge to Rivers program coordinator. "We want to be proactive."
The master plan will explore trail connectivity, responsible trail use, existing policies and priorities for land purchases. It began with an online survey that 2,700 people filled out on how they use the foothills and what they want to see in the future.
Steve Dempsey, representing Idaho Fish and Game, took the microphone from Gordon and explained the importance of the partnership when it comes to managing wildlife. The Boise River Wildlife Management Area includes 40,000 acres of critical winter range for mule deer, elk, 215 different birds, coyotes, bobcats and more.
"These animals migrate from the Sawtooth Mountains to the foothills after the snow gets too deep," he said. "Those foothills are now used by people."
According to the survey results, 30 percent of those people bring dogs. The presentation revealed other trail use trends, including 20 percent of people who use the Camel's Back trails are younger than 20 years old; 30 percent of those using the Old Penitentiary trails are in their 20s; and 20 percent of trail users in Seaman's Gulch are seniors. More than three-quarters of Hillside to Hollow trail users bring their dogs.
Following the presentation, attendees split up among several tables to work in small groups—addressing concerns over trail connectivity, high-use areas, and commonly mentioned issues like dog waste and speeding mountain bikes.
One woman pointed out a lack of connectivity around Harris Ranch. As Harris Ranch continues to grow, more pressure is put on the limited trails. Someone else wanted trails at Bogus Basin to connect all the way to the valley. Another woman didn't want to see neighborhood access to the foothills blocked by private landowners.
The conversation became more complicated when it turned to challenges facing the Boise Foothills over the next decade. One complaint came up again and again: too many people.
"I don't go to Table Rock or Camel's Back or Military Reserve anymore because it's too crowded," said Sam Sandmire, a board member of the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley. "It's too confusing to me when the trails are off-leash and when they are on-leash. You can step onto an on-leash trail without even realizing it and next thing you know, you're getting a ticket for it."
As more people flock to the foothills, parking has become an issue as well. One woman brought up the parking lot near Polecat Gulch, which used to be populated by horse trailers but is now too crowded to accommodate horseback riders. Another woman said the parking near Stack Rock off Bogus Basin Road overflows quickly, leading people to park unsafely along the winding road.
The numbers support those concerns. In 2010, around 40 percent of foothills users arrived in their cars. This year, that number has risen closer to 70 percent.
Despite the increase in people, Tami Dougherty, a former volunteer ranger for Ridge to Rivers, said she sees minimal conflicts on the trail.
"Some mountain bikers might be racing on the Strava app and cause problems, but most people know what they're getting into if they decide to use a trail in Military Reserve at 5 p.m.," she said.
Land managers saw a natural separation of uses taking place at various trails. Mountain bikers tend to stick to Camel's Back, Corrals and Military Reserve, while trail runners prefer Hulls Gulch and dog owners frequent Hillside to Hollow. Sara Arkle, the open space and foothills manager for the city, said that separation helps cut down on conflict between user groups.
"Even though we don't have conflict right now, we may have problems as the population grows over the next 10 years," she said. "We are trying to get ahead of the conflict."
The workshop group kept coming back to the same solution: trail etiquette education—whether it comes from signage, social media outlets like the Boise Foothills Trail Conditions Facebook page or on-trail peer pressure.
Another workshop will take place Thursday, Nov. 19 at Riverglen Junior High School from 5:30-8:30 p.m. A draft plan is set to be developed in a round of workshops in the spring, with a final plan expected to be presented at an open house in May 2016.