Celebrating Earth Day on the Boise River

IRU Founding Director Wendy Wilson navigates an undeveloped reach of the Boise River between Glenwood Bridge and Eagle Road. (photo by Liz Paul)

By Liz Paul, Boise River Campaign Coorinator

What better to do on a warm, sunny Earth Day, then brush the spider webs out of the canoe and hop on the Boise River? Idaho Rivers United Founding Director Wendy Wilson and I fled our offices on April 22, Earth Day, to float from Glenwood Bridge to Eagle Road. The flow was about 600 cfs –pretty low, but enough to float a canoe.

This stretch of the Boise River receives minimal use compared with the extremely popular Barber to Boise reach farther upstream. It’s unusual to see other boaters. What’s more, the river is narrower with more twists and turns than the Barber to Boise reach. Boaters need to have good control of their craft to navigate safely past and around tight corners, overhanging trees and gravel bars. At Eagle Island, where the river divides into two channels, Wendy and I opted to take the north channel.

Idaho Rivers United is a member of the Boise River Trails Coalition, a two-county campaign to promote a trail system in the river corridor from Lucky Peak Dam to the Snake River. Canoeing the river will be more convenient if the cities and counties secure and improve access points and provide some amenities like parking and restrooms. The draft plan should be released this spring.

The Boise River draws people, and some take up permanent residence on its banks. Living on the banks of the Boise River is a risky proposition because of the river’s instability. The river routinely eats away at its banks and occasionally overflows its banks and recaptures old channels in the floodplain. People living near the banks often make things worse, especially for their downstream neighbors, by filling in the floodplain to elevate their homes, by removing trees that stabilize the banks to see the river, and by armoring the shore near their homes so as not to lose an inch of their yards. Wendy and I saw a fair bit of this as we floated.

Although much effort has gone toward constricting the river channel, the wild and unpredictable cannot be eliminated from the river — nor would we want it to be. The Boise River cannot be tamed and still provide the boating, fishing, wildlife, trees, sights, sounds and solace we love.

Idaho Rivers United is working to protect the Boise River floodplain. We support a nationally recognized strategy for floodplain development called No Adverse Impact. This strategy prohibits new development that adversely impacts private property rights as measured by increased flood peaks, flood stage, flood velocity, erosion and sedimentation. Impacts must be identified and either eliminated or mitigated. We sponsored a workshop with national expert Ed Thomas in February, and we’re planning follow-up classes for this summer and fall.

A sun-drenched, bird-song-infused float on the Boise River is a motivational experience. When you pull to shore and stretch out your legs, you’re already planning your next trip. The Boise River offers miles of adventure and I, for one, plan to enjoy it all season long.

See you on the river.