If the Treasure Valley was built around a hub, it would be the Boise River.
When the area was settled, the river meant survival. But now it is the catalyst for the type of life most residents want to lead—one in which outdoor recreation and the beauty of nature are just steps outside our doorways.
That purpose is being aided by the continual, but careful, development of the river corridor with an eye on improving access and amenities while preserving the nature of the area. The Greenbelt has long been one of the major draws of the area, stretching more than 20 miles from the eastern edge of Eagle to Discovery State Park next to Lucky Peak Reservoir.
Recent additions have focused on the portion of the Greenbelt near 36th Street, where not only was a new bridge added, but where the paved pathway will border the new Ray Neef MD Boise River Recreation Park, as well as the soon-to-be-developed Simplot Park. The changes are especially striking considering the area has been relatively neglected until recently—home to empty lots, derelict industrial facilities and warehouses.
The pedestrian bridge linking the north and south sides of the river pathway systems opened last fall, and it has already become popular with commuters and recreationists alike.
"People love it," said Amy Stahl, Boise Department of Parks and Recreation spokesperson. "It's a great connector between the Live and Work section of Garden City and the Veterans Park area. It's great for commuters."
The bridge is the latest link in the pathway system. The next focus for future development is linking Eagle with the larger Greenbelt system.
Beyond making life easier for bike riders and joggers, the bridge will also provide a prime viewpoint to watch the action once the new river park is up and going. The project has been years in the making, but the $3.78 million for the first phase of the park has been raised through a mix of private and government donations, and kayakers could be playing on the first features as soon as spring 2012.
Beth Markley, spokesperson for Friends of the Park, said some in-river work has been done to prepare for the first feature, which will be installed in the riverbed during the work window from October 2011 through March 2012. This first phase includes a wave shaper that will create up to three waves at nearly all water levels.
Markley said work is ongoing to secure agreements with downstream water users that will allow the second phase of the project to begin. But just what that second phase will look like is still a moving target since it cannot be designed until agreements are in place and a new flood plain map is finalized. Park planners anticipate that the second phase will be less expensive than the first, with an estimated price tag of $2.5 million.
A big part of keeping the cost down came thanks to the Simplot Family Foundation, which has stepped up with additional funding to not only develop the park that bears the family's name, but to build restrooms, changing facilities, parking and access to the river park—none of which Friends of the River anticipated.
"That's totally huge," Markley said.
Additionally, the Simplots are putting the development on an accelerated schedule.
Markley added that an additional $5,000 grant from monies collected as part of the Idaho Wild Rivers license plate fund will pay for the installation of a webcam that will allow the curious to watch construction of the project and, eventually, boaters playing on the river features on the Friends of the Park website at boiseriverpark.com.
"The benefits to the community are tremendous," Markley said, adding that communities of similar size have seen millions of dollars come in as a direct result of river parks. She said whitewater event organizers from around the world have already been calling to check on progress. Still, it's area residents who will benefit most directly.
"This will be whitewater you can access on your lunch hour," Markley said.