Boise River Park: Wet and wild, and wildly popular

Popularity and use of the year-old water park along Boise’s Greenbelt surprises everyone

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comJuly 25, 2013 

  • BOISE RIVER PARK

    Getting there

    You can reach the park on bicycle or by walking on the Greenbelt from the Main Street Bridge in Boise west or from Veterans Parkway east.

    It is also accessible from two parking lots. One on the north side of the river can be reached from Idaho River Sports, 3100 W. Pleasanton Ave.

    Another parking area on the south side of the river is off Chinden Boulevard at the end of 35th Street at the river.

    BE COURTEOUS

    - Paddleboarders and kayakers crossing the Greenbelt going back and forth to the wave or pond should watch for bicycle traffic. Don’t lollygag and block the path.

    - Bicyclists should slow down when approaching the park area because of heavy foot traffic.

    - Onlookers shouldn’t block the Greenbelt path, or spots where people launch watercraft on the river or the pond.

    - Keep dogs leashed to avoid collisions with people and bikes.

    - Don’t litter, it’s a growing problem with the popularity of the park.

    - Watch your children and don’t let them wander on the Greenbelt.

    - Watch the edges of Quinn’s Pond. There are steep drop-offs.

Boogie-boarding mom Ann Marie Carleton plunged into the wave at the Boise River Park, surfed a few seconds, and then flipped in white, bubbling foam.

The July day was sizzling, but the 55-degree water felt good. She came up smiling.

There are lots of smiles at the park this summer, from Boise city officials to business people to kayakers, bicyclists, swimmers, sunbathers and passers-by.

“We love coming out here,” said Carleton, who makes the drive in from Nampa to board with her son. “It’s a great place to get exercise and meet great people.”

THE PLACE TO BE

Crowds seeking the refreshing waters of the river and neighboring Quinn’s Pond give the park the feel of Venice Beach or Surf City spiced with a little bit of Huckleberry Finn.

Up until last summer, the river between the Main Street Bridge and Quinn’s Pond was the scene of an aging irrigation diversion with hunks of concrete, wood and metal lurking beneath the river’s surface.

The river’s banks were eroded and hid industrial debris. It was unfriendly to floaters or anyone who wanted to swim or sit along the banks.

Today, the new diversion, smooth rock jetties, fresh beach sand and improved Greenbelt path is a place of lime green and black wetsuits and river booties, bright flower-colored bikinis and surfer shorts or cut-off jeans and holey sneakers.

An aroma of sunscreen floats in the air.

It’s a neighborhood swimming hole to cool off in the afternoon, a beach where you can throw your blanket down in the sand, or aka Redondo Beach, where you take on a butt-kicking wave.

Or, better yet, it’s a place to just sunbathe on the rocks, or lean against the railing and people watch.

On some days you might see a dance class on the round pavilion overlooking the diversion dam.

Besides dancing, the park also is the scene of paddleboard yoga classes, boot-camp fitness sessions and an occasional person floating on an air mattress.

“It’s so easy to get here on the Greenbelt,” said Bri Gabiola, of Boise, who was sunbathing with her sister, Cassi. They also enjoy kayaking in the park.

They are part of the evolution of the park. Phase one of Boise’s River Park cost about $3.9 million in donations, grants and city funds. It has evolved over the year since it was officially dedicated last summer, and it has turned out to be a big surprise for city officials.

INCREASED USE

Use on that part of the Greenbelt has gone from a moderate amount of bicycle commuters and strollers to hundreds of users on most days.

Although the city of Boise hasn’t compiled use numbers, Tom Governale, superintendent of Boise Parks, said it’s easy to see that thousands use the park during some weeks. And, he emphasized that most aren’t whitewater boaters.

In the proposal and developments stages, the park received criticism that it was being built for a few kayakers. Today, it is luring all kinds of users and spurring businesses and housing developments.

Victor Myers opened the Corridor Paddle and Surf Shop this spring in a concrete building less than a half block from the park at 314 E. 35th St. in Garden City.

Myers sells paddle, surf and boogie boards and the stuff to go with them. He also has rentals.

“It started off to be a kayakers’ park, but it kind of evolved into everybody’s park,” said Myers, who was loading 15 paddleboards he had just rented out into a pickup truck.

Myers runs the shop in Garden City May through October and heads for Guatemala November through April for “surfing research.”

Quinn’s Pond has become Boise’s beach, he said with a grin.

Jo Cassin, co-owner of Idaho River Sports on the edge of Quinn’s Pond, has seen a sharp rise in activity since the park was built.

“It has taken off,” she said. Before bicycle commuters would go whipping by the area and there would a few strollers, she said.

Now people stop and stay in the park and dangle their feet in the water. They bring their dogs and kids and stay awhile, she said.

Use in the pond has increased from a few anglers and kayakers to an armada of stand-up paddleboarders, sit-on-top kayakers and tubers.

“Our daily rentals are off the charts,” she said. The shop offers a wide variety of whitewater and flatwater kayakers, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and fishing kayaks.

Idaho River Sports moved to its current location at 3100 W. Pleasanton Ave. in 2004.

The pond and area was mainly undeveloped at that time, Cassin said.

A lot of folks are proud of the changing neighborhood and Greenbelt.

“This is really a success story because of the recreational amenities at this end of town,” Governale said.

On the flip side, the success of the River Park and the congestion along the Greenbelt in the area is pushing city officials to get phases two and three of the park done.

More water-recreation access is needed because it’s so popular, Governale said.

“It caught us off guard,” he said, referring to the number of spectators, increased flatwater paddling at Quinn’s Pond, the full use of the two docks in the pond.

Overflow use is spilling into Veterans Pond downstream.

(Story continues below the River Park video)

THE FUTURE

The next phases of the recreation developments along the river are expected to help the need for more water access.

Phase two is the $10-million, 55-acre Esther Simplot Park, which will feature a large pond connected to Quinn’s Pond with a stream. There will be beaches along the way. The park will also have an amphitheater, off-leash dog area and open grassy play areas.

The park is currently going through the federal permit process dealing with flood plain issues, and construction isn’t expected to start until winter of 2014/15.

Phase three, which will include more in-river improvements for boating downstream from the current diversion is still in the concept stage. It is expected to cost between $3 million and $5 million.

The area is only going to get busier. The new footbridge downstream from the water park makes it easier to access the park from both sides of the river.

The new 30th Street extension will also bring more use into the area, said Governale.

Aside from recreation, the park is “reinvestment in a neighborhood,” said Governale, “We’re enhancing the neighborhood, and we are proud of it.”

TWEAKING THE WAVE

Over the last year, city officials and wave technicians have found that it’s not easy to satisfy everyone with a river surf wave.

It has two wave-shaping devices that create waves for kayakers and boarders.

“We are adjusting the wave some days for surfers and other days for boaters,” said Governale.

Adjustments had to be made to the two wave-shaping devices in the river. Experts have been called in for advice.

The shaper closest to Quinn’s Pond has two concrete side walls that are intimidating to boaters. Experts are trying to shape the wave so it comes out from the diversion a little more downstream and farther from the walls.

The shaper closest to Garden City’s bank is being tweaked and adjusted for surfers and body boarders.

“We didn’t realize the number of surfers we would have,” said Governale.

The wave adjuster can create a nice, smooth green wave, but some aggressive boaters prefer a frothing hole, Governale said.

When there’s a steeper, white foaming hole or wave, beginner and intermediate surfers and boaters complain.

Complicating the shaping of the waves is the flow of the river, which can change hourly depending on irrigation demands.

The river typically flows about 800 cfs through diversion, and flows changing by 25 cfs can alter the shape of the waves being formed.

Other issues? There is a lot more litter, and the city has to deal with it, hopefully through education.

Also, there’s more congestion on the Greenbelt between bicycle and walking traffic and water users carrying paddleboards and kayaks across the path and kids running around from the Quinn’s Pond beach onto the Greenbelt.

But whatever the problems, the park has brought smiles to a lot of faces.

As Myers said from his land-locked surf shop, the park is in transition.

“Everybody’s come out and been stoked on the whole thing,” he said.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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