The Garden Valley volleyball team has been practicing in the gym this week. The football players are in the multipurpose room.
The cross country runners? They’ve been working out in a school hallway.
“They were running up and down the hallway 15 to 20 times,” Garden Valley Superintendent Gregory Alexander said.
Air quality in the Boise County community of Garden Valley, about 50 miles north of Boise, is among the worst in the state, at times this week reaching levels deemed highly hazardous by experts. Residents there are soldiering on, and school is in session.
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At times, visibility in Garden Valley has dropped to a half-mile, residents said.
“It’s depressing,” said Boise County Commission Chairman Alan Ward, who lives in Garden Valley. “I was trying to coin a word for it. It’s almost like mystical. The sun is orange, and it’s like being in a different world, like an animated world.”
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has extended its statewide air quality advisory until 10 a.m. Friday. That means all outdoor burning, including campfires, is banned in Idaho until then.
Just before 2 p.m. Thursday, Boise and West Ada schools announced that all outdoor activities and events were once again canceled. The football game between Boise and Timberline has been rescheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday.
The good news is that National Weather Service forecasters remain optimistic that conditions will improve in the Treasure Valley by Friday, the result of a weather pattern shift that brings in air from the south that could push some of the smoke out of the Valley.
As part of that system, there could be outflow wind gusts up to 50 mph and even thunderstorms, said Weather Service meteorologist Bill Wojcik.
At noon Friday, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality updated its forecast for the day to an orange alert — air quality that’s poor enough to impact sensitive groups. The original forecast was a red alert, which means unhealthy for all groups.
The bad news: Winds out of the west on Sunday could bring more smoky air to Southwest Idaho.
Just after 2 p.m. Thursday, the AirNow Web site was showing “unhealthy” air quality (red alert) in Boise and Idaho City, and “very unhealthy” (purple alert) in Garden Valley, Grangeville and Coeur d’Alene.
Alexander, the Garden Valley schools superintendent, said the smoke hasn’t affected student attendance.
“It’s been pretty steady,” he said.
But some students are suffering symptoms of exposure to smoke, including headaches, itchy eyes and sore throats. He’s had the school nurse check on children with asthma and monitor how all the students are doing.
“The air inside is pretty clean,” said Alexander, who keeps close tabs on conditions during the day.
He said he doesn’t see any benefit to canceling school because of poor air quality.
“I think parents realize ... what could they [students] do at home compared to what they can do here?” he said.
Changing exercise plans
There are 20 treadmills lined up in a row on the second floor of the Axiom Fitness on ParkCenter Boulevard. Of those, 15 are being used by the Timberline High cross country team, while an additional 10 or so are being occupied by Wolves in other recesses of the cardio room.
And that’s not to mention the elipticals.
Timberline coach Ty Axtman has had to improvise with air quality preventing running outdoors. “It’s way different,” Axtman said. “Just the consistent flat-footing that a treadmill gives you is so much different than what you’re actually running on when you’re out on the Boise Greenbelt.”
Axtman’s team began working out at Axiom on Tuesday and plans to continue through Saturday. He brought 30 or so of his top runners with him to the gym; the other 70 or so runners are doing indoor workouts in the wrestling room or in the hallways at the school.
And it’s not just those athletes who have had to change plans. Gyms across the Treasure Valley have seen an influx of bodies in recent days due to an inability to exercise outdoors.
The Treasure Valley Family YMCA branches have seen a major uptick in guests, president and CEO David Duro said. Compared to exactly a year prior, the YMCA in Downtown Boise, the West Branch and the Boise City Aquatic Center saw 627 more guests combined on Sept. 5 alone.
“There is a definite change,” Duro said. “The regulars and the people who normally this time of year would be exercising outside are coming in.”
At the Axiom on ParkCenter, 1,188 more members checked in Tuesday and Wednesday than did the previous week, general manager Brett Howell said.
Axiom has seen an increase in membership requests as well, according to Howell. He believes the poor air has caused people to do what they would normally do in the later fall months: buy a membership for the time of year when outdoor activity becomes less feasible.
“It’s certainly noticeable,” Howell said. “With our walkthroughs every 15 minutes, you’re (doing more cleaning).”