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The BFF's: With Friends Like These...

"It's a chance to donate time and money, and get your hands dirty. Become a BFF, and participate in the Boise Foothills Friends."

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When David Gordon took over as Ridge to Rivers program manager 12 years ago, the city of Boise had 95 miles of trails to manage. Now, those miles have doubled, with around 400,000 visitors per year.

"We have four full-time positions and we pick up four more seasonal positions for trail crew," Gordon said. "Since I've got here—up until this year—we've had the same size crew. We added one permanent position and two seasonal positions this year. The eight of us focus on the dirt."

The city has focused largely on acquiring foothills land through the 2001 foothills levy and now the new Clean Water and Open Space levy—both for $10 million.

What that means for Gordon and his crew is 200 miles of trail that need infill, tread, established slopes, drain dip and erosion repairs, invasive weed mitigation and a "laundry list" of other trail maintenance.

That's just putting a Band-Aid on the problems," Gordon said. "If we had additional funds, we could build cooler trails. We could turn old two-tracks into single track trail that would be much more fun. But that's not a real high priority because we have all these other things to work on."

A handful of years ago, a solution to this funding problem was in the works when a small group of citizens came together and started talking about the creation of a friends group for the foothills.

Friends groups are 501(c)3 nonprofits that become helpful tools to raise money for large projects, as well as broaden awareness and strengthen community assets. For example, the Friends of the Park helps raise millions of dollars for the Boise River Park, allowing the first phase to be constructed in 2012, as well as the next phases, which are slated for construction in 2017.

While the city can't ask for donations to fund such projects, a friends group can. Zoo Boise has its own Friends group, as well as the Boise Public Library. Gordon and other city employees longed to see a friends group of their own.

However, the creation of a friends group for the foothills quickly turned rocky.

"It was so challenging even just to get an agreement hammered out," Gordon said. "It baffles me why that was so challenging. You think it would be fairly easy, but it led to [the citizens involved] throwing their hands up and stepping away."

Three years ago, a friends group was created and called Boise Trail Works.

"Which is kind of an odd name," Gordon said. "Honestly, nothing has been done. So we're still at ground zero on how to succeed. And it took two years just to get to that point."

That is, until Saturday, March 5.

The Egyptian Theatre nearly sold out for the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley's inaugural Les Bois Film Festival, which showcased 15 short nature films from all over the world and a few local gems.

It was after one such film that Brooke Green, a board member of LTTV, took to the stage and made an important announcement.

"We are launching an effort to continue trail maintenance projects starting tonight, called the Boise Foothills Friends," she said. "Or, BFF. It's a chance to donate time and money, and get your hands dirty. Become a BFF, and participate in the Boise Foothills Friends."

More information on the new foothills friends group is at lttv.org/friends-of-the-foothills.

Tim Breuer, the executive director of LTTV, has had this in mind for a long time. He was the original Ridge to Rivers program manager, so he understands firsthand the challenges Gordon and his crew are facing.

"Working with the Land Trust puts this idea 10 years ahead of the game, as opposed to creating a new nonprofit," Breuer said. "It's hard to start something new and sustain it."

He said the new sub-group of the Land Trust will work closely with the city's Foothills and Open Space senior manager, Sara Arkle, as well as Gordon, and help Ridge to Rivers grow a support staff.

"This is a model where you're not just relying on tax dollars and the government to get stuff done, but instead incorporating a non-political. non-governmental organization," Breuer said. "You can't just keep buying trails. You have to take care of what you already have."

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