Restoration of the iconic and heavily-trod sandy slope at Camel’s Back Park, aka the Camel’s Back Chute, was scheduled to be completed before Christmas, said Toby Norton, the city’s Parks Resource Planning Manager.
Bad weather changed those plans.
“Frozen ground and 34 inches of snow make it hard to do work on the hill,” said Norton.
The good news is that better weather let work continue over recent weeks. The hill reopened to the public officially Thursday afternoon, March 9.
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The restoration, done by Winspear Construction, includes stone steps on the upper part of the slope which will help stabilize the sandy soil. Crews installed safety handrail along the new steps. In a nice nod to local history, parks and rec is keeping the rail that had been installed on Camel’s Back about 10 years ago, which was originally salvaged chairlift cable from Bogus Basin.
The city is also reseeding the back side of the hill, planting a mix of grasses and other plants native to the Boise Foothills to further stabilize the erosion-prone soil in the area.
“And we’ll come back, probably in six months to a year from now to put in native shrubs, sagebrush, bitterbrush, rabbitbrush,” said Norton.
The restoration, which cost $180,000 from the city’s major repairs and maintenance fund, also expanded the area at the top of the slope, creating a better vantage point to view the city below, said Norton. The new stone stairs, too, surrounded by Montana sandstone boulders, will offer another seating area — for watching fireworks or just enjoying a summer evening, said Norton — in addition to protecting the area of the hill most in danger of erosion.
Boise Parks and Recreation staff held public meetings and took public feedback to help create the improvement plan for the chute.
Most public reaction to the project has been good, said Norton, though he has heard from people who say the new stone steps shorten the hill’s sledding run or those who wanted the slope to remain in its natural state. But the natural state was not sustainable because of heavy use, said Norton.
Dave Green, a longtime North End resident who runs a website that’s focused on the historic neighborhood, noted that the hill has decreased in elevation over the past decades from erosion.
The North End Neighborhood Association is supportive of the upgrade, said spokesman Stephen Miller.
“My kids play at Camel’s Back. There are two places we go. One is the jungle gym. Then they want to run up the chute,” said Miller.
“The chute is one of those things that has been an iconic part of the park for a long time. But before the improvements, it was getting precarious at the top of the hill,” he said.
Norton is asking the public to remain patient and stay off slopes in the area where reseeding is taking place. Those areas are clearly marked.
The city of Boise acquired the land to build Camel’s Back Park in 1932 from Boisean Bernard Lemp (a street in the North End bears the family name). Public donations, as well as support from the Idaho National Guard, the Rotary Club, Optimist Club and the Boise Jaycees, paid for the park’s development. It was dedicated in 1965.
Old-time Boiseans credit motorcycle enthusiasts with cutting the first trail up the sandy hill in the 1940s. As legend has it, they referred to the front, or southern slope of the hill, as the “Angel Slide,” and the back, or northern slope of the hill, as the “Devil Slide.”
The park, at 1200 N. Heron Street at the northern end of 13th Street, is home each year to the popular Hyde Park Street Fair.