On our most recent exploration of Boise neighborhoods, my friend Candy and I rode up and down hillsides. We enjoyed areas where houses skirt the rivers and other neighborhoods that spread out on plateaus and or developed on what not so long ago was pastureland.
We took several rides and a hike as we covered a wide swath east of the Idaho Botanical Garden to the beautiful Idaho Shakespeare Festival. We headed south through the Barber Valley and into the southeast region of Boise. The area we explored is roughly framed by Broadway Avenue on the West, the Shakespeare theater to the east, the Foothills on the north and Federal Way on the south.
On one ride we pedaled by the green fairways of the Warm Springs Golf Course, a family-friendly course located at the base of the Foothills beside the Boise River. As we headed on east we noticed the contemporary urban architecture of homes in the newest part of the Harris Ranch development. The area, once typical Western frontier territory covered in sage, now tingles with construction and promise — and an unusual number of neighborhood swimming pools.
In 1902, James Barber built a lumber mill by the river, and a whole town developed there that carried his last name. In its heyday, railroads converged there to pick up loads of lumber grown in Idaho forests and milled in Barber.
Half a century or so later, Dallas and Alta Harris acquired land in the area and eventually established a cattle ranch. Dallas envisioned the area as the future site of a village occupied by families committed to the same ideals he cherished — preservation and stewardship of the environment. He drafted a plan in 1976 and, decades later, dreams have evolved into a very real legacy. Harris Ranch bills itself as a 1,300-acre development that “strikes a careful balance between new development and the protection of the environment, wildlife habitat and historic values in the Barber Valley,” according to its website.
As for us, the Greenbelt provided an easy biking route. Crowded bike racks in front of Lucky 13 restaurant bespoke a community gathering place for many who live and bike in the Harris Ranch area. The surrounding neighborhood is extremely pedestrian-friendly and seems to invite interaction among the people living in the homes along its tree-lined streets. The Terraces, a new upscale retirement facility, looms big like a village unto itself toward the eastern part of Harris Ranch.
We began our most recent ride at a truly sweet spot, Powell’s Sweet Shoppe. Reminiscent of “Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” this shop is bursting with color and thousands of candies and sweets that could satisfy nearly any sugary craving. Powell’s is located in Bown Crossing, a planned community in Southeast Boise with a central street that is home to several restaurants and shops.
Just a block away, on the grounds of Riverside Elementary School, stands the Bown House. A stone home built in the 1890s by pioneer farmers Joseph and Temperance Bown, it is a well-preserved relic of Idaho heritage and currently houses an educational program that transports kids back to the end of the 19th century.
When school kids visit, costumed guides put them to work with chores and activities reminiscent of earlier days in the Valley. One room served first as the Bown family dining room, but when the local school burned down, kids had no place to go for organized classes, so the Bowns converted their parlor into a suitable classroom and school continued. The general public can enjoy a free tour of the home led by members of Boise’s Assistance League from 1 to 4 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month.
We admired the handsome home and then headed for Marianne Williams Park, a lovely new jewel in Boise’s park system that features paved paths, ponds, streams and wetlands for the benefit of wildlife and wildlife watchers alike.
Eventually, we found our way to the river and yet another park — Barber Park. In the summer, this park overflows with rafters and tubers preparing to step into the Boise River to begin a cooling float. On our recent visit, fishermen were enjoying a quiet afternoon. We met David Alvarado and his young son heading down to the bank of the river with their fishing gear and stopped them long enough to ask why they liked living in this part of town. David, an avid fisherman and music producer, told us that he found it therapeutic to live 10 minutes from the river and two blocks from the Foothills.
Other residents echoed that sentiment. Annie McFarland says she loves that she can easily get in a couple of hours of kayaking after work and unwind as she paddles a stretch of the river near her Southeast Boise home. Annie’s sister-in-law Kate, who lives in Surprise Valley, enjoys the frequent backyard visits of winged and four-footed “neighbors,” including owls, quail and occasional heron, rabbits, deer and frogs. She also says she loves that “from my doorstep, I can hop on the Greenbelt and run from the Foothills to the river.”
I walked a footpath up the basalt cliff near her home with her son, Tyler. We were heading up a rocky, narrow footpath known as Kelton Ramp that may have been used by Oregon Trail emigrants toward the end of the 1860s to make a descent from the top of the cliff to the river below. Just steps beyond Bureau of Land Management signage at the cliff’s top, hikers will find actual ruts made by Oregon Trail wagons.
The valley spread out below us might now be unrecognizable to those earlier travelers. The braided Boise River has been tamed and flows in a course charted by engineers. Sagebrush has been replaced by green lawns, and houses by the dozen have sprung from the rocky ground. Strip malls and grocery stores are notably absent from this residential area, but most people seemed not to mind that they must travel a ways to do much shopping.
Later, Candy and I circled back toward the river, traveled westward on Boise Avenue noticing remnants of old farmsteads along the eastern stretch of the road. We turned onto Holcomb and traveled a few blocks. Goats stared at us from a small pasture as we headed to the end of the street to Holcomb Square. This charming pocket of attractive homes is tucked away like a treasure just off the proverbial beaten path.
Intrigued by an actual path to the side of Holcomb Square, we pushed our bikes upward and at the top found ourselves looking at the steep concrete sides of the Ridenbaugh Canal — a man-made waterway that shuttles river water to Boise’s more western residents and beyond. Signs point the way across a footbridge toward the Simplot Sports Complex, where dozens of soccer fields and several baseball diamonds are in nearly constant use during the warmer months of the year. We wound our way back down the hill and headed back to Boise Avenue.
On earlier rides we had ridden through lovely southeastern neighborhoods like Lakewood and Geckler Farms, where the historic Triangle Dairy owned by the Tate family of Boise still stands. In these areas we found a mix of housing options, from apartment complexes to condos, townhouses to single-family homes.
On this particular ride, we rode through elegant riverside neighborhoods, too, but we needed to conclude quickly. The temperature was dropping, and the setting sun was painting the Foothills a rosy pink. In the glow of that surreal light, we headed back to the candy store. A sweet end to an exploration of a fascinating part of the city.
Ellie McKinnon is a freelance writer who lives in Boise.
About this series
Longtime West Bench resident Ellie McKinnon is looking for a new home — somewhere in Boise. After she explores each of the city’s neighborhoods by bike — uncovering their best assets, talking to residents, soaking up the vibes — she will pen a monthly column that highlights what she’s discovered.
Why buy in Southeast Boise?
The Southeast Boise neighborhood, nestled amongst the Foothills, Greenbelt, parks and Boise River are all about quality of life, said Nicole Roldan, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty Boise.
“New development is expanding the variety of properties in Southeast Boise, including low maintenance/small lots, large view lots and Greenbelt/riverfront homes, and it is just as easy to get to the airport and Downtown Boise as it is to explore the nearby wilderness areas,” she said.
Housing data for Southeast Boise
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Source: Intermountain Multiple Listing Service Inc.