Ann Morrison Park is the largest of Boise’s 90 parks, a busy 150-acre playground for picnics, bird feeding, soccer, Frisbee golf, dog walking, fountain splashing and relaxing after river floats.
In the heart of the city along the Boise River, the park is traditionally where thousands of Boiseans gather for Fourth of July festivities, including a big fireworks show at dusk. This year, the city’s fireworks show has been relocated to Expo Idaho, 5160 Glenwood St. in Garden City, because parts of Ann Morrison Park are waterlogged or muddy.
The river ran above flood stage all spring as water managers strove to avoid overflowing upstream dams that could have caused far more severe flooding. But the river did not spill out of its banks and flood Ann Morrison. Instead, parts of the park became swamped by a rising water table.
Four ponds, nearly 2 feet deep in some places, sprang up in Ann Morrison’s turf, delighting geese and ducks as they shocked other park-goers. Now that the river’s flow has been cut, all but one of those ponds have dried up, leaving large, unsightly areas of brown grass.
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Water has come up on the grounds of Ann Morrison Park before but not as it did this spring, said longtime City Forester Brian Jorgenson.
“We have not seen that reaction to the flow of the river before,” said Boise Parks & Recreation Director Doug Holloway, who has been with the parks department for almost 16 years.
Hydrology explains what happened. Water underground normally flows toward the river, but when the river is at or above flood stage, there’s nowhere for the underground water to go, said Robert Bousfield, a city engineer who was involved in monitoring the river this spring.
The aftermath upsets some people who love the park, one of the city’s “ribbon of jewels.”
“There are people that I’ve talked to who have actually cried,” Holloway said. “So much of our population has an emotional attachment to that park. ... To see the devastation that occurred there, it definitely has created a little bit of a reaction that, quite honestly, I didn’t expect.”
Both sides of Royal Boulevard on the east side of Ann Morrison near the Boise River float takeout were affected. The road was temporarily closed when it was under a foot of water.
An area on the Americana Boulevard, or west, side of the park was affected, too. Geese and their goslings are still happily paddling in a shrinking pond there.
The grass damage looks bad, in part, because it’s near some high-traffic areas — but it’s actually a small percentage of the total park, an estimated 4 acres, or just 3 percent of park grounds. Once it dries out, park employees will re-seed it and restore it to its former glory.
“We’ll bring it back,” Holloway said. “It’s just turf.”
Park employees may hold off on reseeding the area between Royal Boulevard and the river until the highly anticipated river float season ends to protect it from foot traffic. River flows are still too high for floating, and post-flooding cleanup work remains, so no float season has yet been set.
The Candy Cane Playground at the park just west of the float takeout will be closed until it dries out and workers can replace the bark material around playground equipment that’s been soaking all spring.
Also, as many as 30 trees could die after being submerged for so long, said Jorgenson, whose 12-member forestry staff maintains about 45,000 trees in city parks and public right-of-ways.
Jorgenson said his staff will keep a close eye on the trees that were in standing water for prolonged periods. Some can tolerate having “wet feet” better than others, he said.
“Older trees are going to be able to withstand it. They have a better-established root system,” he said.
A few weeks ago, a pine tree near the parks department’s administrative offices at Ann Morrison had to be removed quickly after Jorgenson noticed that it had begun to lean over Royal Boulevard.
The rising water table at Marianne Williams Park damaged the turf there, and floodwater from the river spilled onto three holes at Warm Springs Golf Course, Holloway said. The turf at both of those places has mostly dried out. Parks workers will reseed Marianne Williams, and they’re working on repairs at the golf course.