Boise Parks and Recreation leaders haven't given up on opening Esther Simplot Park this year, but that goal is looking less likely.
The question they'll obsess over is how well the park's grass and other vegetation can withstand what Parks and Recreation expects will be a heavy load of footsteps once the park opens. In a best-case scenario, it could be ready by fall.
"When October rolls around, if we feel it looks good enough and we're feeling comfortable with the vegetation holding up under a tremendous amount of public pressure, then we'll get it open," Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said. "And if not, we'll wait until after the first of the year. Which doesn't mean, like, April. It means, like, heck, probably prior to that. You know, it could be as early as February."
Originally, Esther Simplot Park was scheduled to open this spring. But crews digging in the site, which will have several ponds and other waterways, uncovered tons of tires, concrete, rebar and other industrial debris that had been buried for decades. Removing all that stuff lengthened the park's construction period and cost millions.
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Now, most of the structural work is done, but the green part hasn't taken hold yet. Holloway said waiting until early next year to open the park should ensure the vegetation survives, even if the park is muddy when people first start trampling it.
"If it's established, it goes to sleep in the winter, and then we come out in the springtime, and something happens, it's much more easy to bring that back than it would be to bring something back that never even really got started," he said.
Meanwhile, Parks and Recreation has done something in the park area that is popular: opening the Boise River Greenbelt spur between Whitewater Park Boulevard and the Boise River. That gives people foot and bike access to Quinn's Pond and the whitewater park to the west. Holloway thinks opening the spur has eased people's impatience with the construction of Esther Simplot Park.
"The fact that, with that section of Greenbelt, they can actually look into the park now. It's just a chain-link fence that separates them from the park. So they can look into it. They can see it. And that probably makes a little bit of a difference as well," he said. "Can they actually get in and use it? No, but it lends itself to the reality: There's the park. It looks great."
The section of the Greenbelt that runs north-south through the new park will stay closed until the park opens, Holloway said. It likely will close again late next year when construction starts on the second phase of the whitewater park and re-open by the end of 2018.