50 Years of Natural Connection

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

If you ask a Boise resident what they’ll be up to on the weekend, chances are they’ll be walking or biking part of the Boise River Greenbelt. Boise was one of the first cities in the US to add a greenbelt – a path which now travels 25 miles along both sides of the Boise River, connecting residential spaces in the north east and south west with downtown and the many cultural resources available in the heart of Boise. With its tall cottonwood trees, diverse bird and wildlife population, and DOTS system which marks the distance from downtown in 0.1 mile increments, the Boise River Greenbelt is a shady and cool option for runners, bikers and those looking to stroll through parts of Boise and take things in at a more leisurely pace.

If you know how strong a link Boise has with its outdoor assets, it won’t surprise you to know that Boise was among the front runners in greenbelt development in the 60s. At that time, the areas around the river were anything but a place where locals would want to relax and spend their free time. Industrial waste and trash, even raw sewage, littered the banks downtown and a multitude of industrial properties blocked the views and routes to the river. Over the decades the City of Boise has worked to gain land piecemeal to build the greenbelt and the nearby parks, and passed ordnances to clean up the surrounding area. The Boise River Greenbelt connects the Ribbon of Jewels, a collection of 9 parts and 1 trail dotted throughout Boise, that are all named after famous local women. The greenbelt allows residents and visitors alike to connect these parks together; they spread about 7 miles through downtown and into residential areas that are established and that are being developed. There are 10 bridges within the downtown stretch of the greenbelt, meaning you can plan walks or rides of any length, and they allow easy access for pedestrians and bikers from all across town.

Julia Davis Park, the first park to be named after a famous Boise woman, is home to Zoo Boise, the Boise Art Museum, the Idaho State museum, the Idaho Black History Museum, and the Discovery Center of Idaho. As the cultural hub of downtown Boise, the greenbelt through this park is always busy, with bikers, dog walkers, roller bladers, and families. It’s an easy place to join the greenbelt and travel a few miles in either direction. With restaurants, wineries and stores dotted along the greenbelt at various places, there’s always somewhere to stop, even if you didn’t plan exactly where you were going. Head east and you can stop for a few holes at the Warm Springs Municipal Golf Course, or head on to Bown Crossing for pizza, drinks, or to check out the library. Traveling west leads you past breweries and wineries, and into the Surel-Mitchel Work Live Create District, a burgeoning area with newbuild housing and many studios like Surel’s Place.

The Work Live Create District is technically part of Garden City and is just beyond Boise city limits. It’s a relaxing 2-mile bike ride along the river from downtown. Jodi Eichelberger, director of programming at Surel’s Place, a live-work art studio steps from the Greenbelt, started an ArtBike tour in 2014 as a way to access the creative spaces around the Greenbelt that Boiseans don’t always know are there. At Surel’s Place there are up to three free or low-cost events per month including workshops, readings, performances, and exhibits, and it offers a monthly artist-in-residence program which has been used by local, national and international artists. “We put a sign up on the Greenbelt to let people know there is an art event taking place and we are just off the path. We've had several come for a spontaneous visit- sometimes with bikes or a dog!”

Another thing that has helped bring greenbelters into the creative space is the Garden City Artisan’s Pathway Map, which highlights places to ‘Taste’, ‘Create’, and ‘Play in the neighborhood. It “recognizes that there are adventures to be had along the Greenbelt and that it can be used for getting to destinations and not just as a destination in itself,” says Eichelberger.

Boise Green Bike, a bike share system, has hubs throughout downtown and along the Greenbelt, meaning visitors or residents looking to travel further than the downtown area can easily rent a bike and check out some of the activities out of walking distance. Boise has also recently introduced a few different e-scooter options. You can easily download their app, find a scooter, and ride to wherever in Boise City, or on the entire 25 miles of Greenbelt, that you wish, without finding a set drop-off location. For visitors to the city, Green Bikes and e-scooters make great options to travel a little further and explore the city in a more fun way than hiring an Uber or navigating through the traffic system.

Boise River Greenbelt is about to hit a big birthday – in September it will be 50 years old, and the city will be celebrating with a 3-day party. The summer is peak river season in Boise; it’s always been a local tradition to chuck an inner tube in at the east end and float 6 miles or so downtown. Now that the Ribbon of Jewels includes Quinn Whitewater Park and Esther Simplot Park, there are lots more options for kayakers, paddleboarders and swimmers too. Quinn’s Pond and Esther Simplot Park are joined by a lazy stream, providing over 50 acres of water for enthusiasts to paddle on. This summer is shaping up to be the best yet for Boiseans looking to cool off in the water, and the Greenbelt birthday bash will be the perfect way to end the season with a bang.

This summer, the other big draw will be the completion of phase II of the Boise Whitewater Park. Phase I of the park was completed in 2012 and included a state-of-the-art waveshaper, allowing for year-round waves for surfing and kayaking, adjusting to the river flow through the seasons. Wilson Colby, 16, a Boise local, has been surfing for about a year, and learned on the waveshaper. He had friends who were into it, “rented out a board and a wetsuit for the first time, tried it out and then I was hooked. I loved it.” While there’s a dirt parking lot just across from the Whitewater Park, Wilson says that many people bike or skate to the park.

Phase II, due to be completed at the beginning of this summer, has 3 levels of waves to allow for people of all different skill levels to enjoy the water. With coffee shops nearby and a natural outdoor amphitheater being created on the banks, locals and visitors will be able to relax and watch those enjoying the waves. Like Kelly’s Whitewater Park in Cascade, just a couple of hours north of Boise, that has hosted two National Kayak Championships, Boise Whitewater Park will host competitions and Boise hopes to capture the economic benefits of bringing these dynamic sports like kayaking, surfing and stand up paddling and making them easily accessible by the Greenbelt from downtown.

As Boise continues to expand, with new housing developments to the east and west, and new buildings downtown, the Boise River Greenbelt is the glittering thread that connects them all, allowing Boise residents and visitors to play, work and live in one unified space.