How to begin talking about the place of the Foothills in the hearts of Boiseans? The Foothills that surround the Valley are arguably the most definitive feature of the local landscape. They form the very horizon of the city.
The Foothills create a sense of enclosure that's intuitive for a native, a sense that's not even conscious until you're in a city without Foothills, where you can't just look up, over the urban skyline and see rolling shoulders of green, or gold or sage gray or even white, depending on the season.
And no one ever gets jaded about Foothills light. It's as dazzling as anything the Mediterranean has to offer. Witness the photos that pop up on Facebook pages any time one of those freakish post-storm rainbows appears in a purple sky over DayGlo chartreuse hills. People try to out-Foothills one another with their cameras.
The subject of Foothills preservation dates to the 1940s when residents started talking about the fate of the land that had been part of the Boise Army Barracks military training area.
Thanks to the advocacy of a grassroots coalition and former Mayor Brent Coles, Boise taxpayers in 2001 approved the Foothills serial levy, a two-year property tax.
The tax raised $10 million to buy open space around Boise. The city continues to buy land for open space.
Recent purchases include 154 acres at the end of Collister Drive for trail access to the nearby 680-acre Polecat Ridge Reserve and 260 acres between Hillside Junior High and Harrison Hollow.
The latest purchase includes existing trails that will be integrated into the Ridge to Rivers trail system.
The system snakes throughout the Foothills. The city of Boise, Ada County, the Bureau of Land Management's Four Rivers Field Office, the Boise National Forest and the Idaho Fish and Game Department came together in 1992 to pool money and expertise to maintain the interconnected trails.
The Ridge to Rivers trails offer migrating birds, wildflowers that range from miniscule prairie stars to wild onions to showy lupine. Herds of sheep pass through in the spring on their way to summer grazing areas. Ridge to Rivers trails offer vistas from so high Boise appears small enough to carry on a dinner plate.
The system includes 154 trails that run some 130 miles.
Writer Cort Conley, director of literature for the Idaho Commission on the Arts, quotes literary critic Cyril Connolly: "No city should be too large for a man to walk out of in a morning."
"And in that regard," says Conley, "the Foothills keep Boise bearable morning, noon and - for coyotes and cougars - night."
Anna Webb: 377-6431