Ever buy a fixer-upper house that your heart was set on because you saw the potential? Signing the closing papers is exciting — but then you walk in the door and realize the work is just beginning.
So it is in Boise. By a 3-1 margin, Boise voters overwhelmingly supported the open space and clean water levy in November. This is the latest move in more than a decade’s worth of investing in open space reserves from the last levy in 2001. That investment has already paid off greatly in protecting the natural setting and recreational access that makes Boise such a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family.
Most voters won’t think much more about the $10 million levy that they approved on election day. But they do want to know that money is being managed well and spent on exactly the kind of projects it was intended for, which is why the city of Boise is assembling a citizen advisory committee to help guide decision makers and provide feedback on how to spend the $10 million.
Open space carries many benefits for cities like Boise. It’s important for us to consider all those benefits and think long into the future to strike an appropriate balance for today and decades down the road.
Certainly recreation is important, and Boiseans love their trails for hiking, biking, running and more, and we all have our favorite go-to depending on the season. Plus a growing body of science demonstrates that plenty of outdoor exercise is a great way to promote both mental and physical wellness. It’s particularly important for our kids to have places to move, run and explore.
Clean water is another great reason to conserve open space. Natural, functioning watersheds will keep the Boise River running clear and clean. (How many cities of Boise’s size have opportunities to fly-fish on your lunch break? Not many.) Healthy tributaries also help prevent flooding and erosion. As Boise and outlying populations grow, our sources of clean water will be even more important.
But let’s not forget our neighbors who cannot speak for themselves: our wildlife. Our wetlands, stream-side riparian areas, migration corridors and winter ranges are vital for wildlife, from songbirds to mule deer and others. Seeing wildlife around Boise makes life a lot brighter for many of us.
As we plan the future of our open spaces, with the desire for more recreational access, we should remember to give wildlife what they need to survive. In some times and places, that may mean setting reasonable limits on human activities to protect particularly important habitats or giving wildlife elbow room during sensitive seasons like breeding, nesting or winter.
As we plan the future of our open spaces, we should also remember to preserve the natural character that defines our community. The trail system should be managed to strike a balance between recreation expectations and conservation values, including preserving native plants; protecting and restoring wildlife habitat; and prioritizing creeks, runoffs and drainage systems to provide clean water.
Like that household remodeling project, the Boise open space investments will take careful thought, budgeting and planning. They will also require that voices are heard so that the end product is something all of Idaho can take pride in for a long, long time.
Lana Weber is the community engagement associate at Idaho Conservation League.