The brief closure of a popular Northwest Boise path raised new awareness about etiquette, access and connectivity - and how much Valley residents value their Foothills trails.
The Idaho State Veterans Cemetery, city of Eagle, Ada County, and trail and mountain bike groups are trying to figure out how to keep Foothills access open - or maybe even improved - without affecting the solemnity of Veterans Cemetery or punishing the majority of trail users who follow the rules.
"We are looking at all options to preserve the trail and be good neighbors and meet everybody's needs," said David Brasuell, Idaho Division of Veterans Services administrator.
"It adds to our wonderful quality of life. I don't want to see it closed."
GOOD TRAIL, BAD BEHAVIOR
From its hilltop perch set against a Boise Foothills backdrop, the 76-acre Idaho State Veterans Cemetery offers a peaceful place of solitude and beauty for friends and family members of Idaho veterans laid to rest here. It is a sacred space that honors veterans with dignity and beauty - until a loved one encounters a free-ranging (or worse, defecating) dog, a revving dirt bike or thumping music.
The popular Ridge-to-Rivers trail crosses state land next to the Veterans and Dry Creek cemeteries. But some uses of the trail haven't been respectful or even legal.
"The most persistent problem with the trail is dogs off-leash," said David Gordon, coordinator of the 130-mile Ridge-to-Rivers network. Other problems include kids partying at the trailhead, motorcycles and other noisy vehicles using the trail, and people walking up the hillside to hang out in the cemetery. Brasuell said many Foothills trails suffer from overuse and abuse, but when it happens at the Veterans trail, it can have an effect on cemetery-visiting families - "a moment we cannot take back or repeat for that family," Brasuell said.
"It is important that we have some respect for the grounds and our operations," he said.
Cemetery officials closed the trail across state land for more than a week, hoping the shutout would remind trail users to obey the rules about cleaning up after and leashing their dogs, staying on marked trails and that motorized vehicles are banned.
"I think temporarily closing the trail was a good move to bring awareness to the problem," said Gordon. "But I am not sure it reached everyone in that short a period of time."
Cemetery officials and trail managers are monitoring the situation. If problems persist, the next step is to ramp up enforcement - issue tickets for off-leash dogs and other violations.
"There is a segment of people who are not going to buy into it unless they get a ticket," Gordon said.
The ideal scenario is leaving the trail where it is and eliminating the problems through education and awareness, Gordon said. Another solution may be to close the trailhead, but keep the trail open. A third option would be relocating the trail away from the cemetery to an area that offers similar access and experiences.
The trail is the sole hiking and biking connection from Northwest Boise and Hill Road to the Eagle Sports Park on Horseshoe Bend Road, which includes miles of bike trails and recreational features, said Eagle City Councilwoman Mary Defayette. When the trail was temporarily closed, cyclists rode Horseshoe Bend Road - or through the cemetery - to get to the cycling park.
Defayette wants to avoid forcing cyclists onto the roads. And Brasuell, Gordon and Defayette all want to get a dialogue going about how best to keep the trail open or, if necessary, find a good alternative.
The trail is next to the 2,700-acre Ada County Landfill. One possible solution is to shift the trail to county-owned land. Less than an air mile away is a developed trailhead and about three miles of trails on the east side of Seamans Gulch Road.
Moving the Veterans trail slightly east would put more distance between hikers, bikers and dog-walkers and the cemetery, and possibly offer trail connections to the Seamans Gulch trails.
"That would be a win-win," said Defayette.
Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell