A group of men, all wearing backpacks, scaled the steep foothills surrounding Horseshoe Bend. Below them, the Payette River snaked its way south as the wind blew ever-so-lightly in their faces. It was a beautiful summer afternoon.
In the distance, the small group, many of whom had helmets dangling from their packs, spotted two men approaching. Scott Edwards, a longtime speed-flying pilot from Boise stepped forward to greet the pair while the rest of his group kept hiking.
“What are you guys doing,” one of the men, Steve Loomis, asked.
“We’re just hiking up this mountain to fly off the top,” Edwards said, explaining the contents of his backpack.
“Well, you’re hiking on my property,” Loomis said.
But Loomis, a former smoke jumper, was intrigued. So he allowed the procession to continue up the mountain. He liked what he saw as the group of pilots removed small parachutes or “wings” from their packs, ran off a ridgeline and began a high-speed flight to the valley floor.
“After he watched us, he asked if we wanted a ride to the top,” Edwards said. “So he shuttled us up.”
Thus began a friendship that was the building block for the Horseshoe Bend Flight Park, a 910-acre venture in Horseshoe Bend off Idaho 55 north of Boise that is essentially a club for flight sports in the Boise area. The park will offer memberships that will include shuttles for experienced hang gliders, paragliders and speed-flyers. The new business offers tandem flight, lessons, camping and other amenities.
“This has been a dream of mine for a long time,” Edwards said. “My wife has been listening to me talk forever about wanting to buy property with a mountain to teach people to fly.”
It turns out Edwards didn’t have to buy a mountain. He met his business partner, Justin Boer, four years ago while flying in Hailey. They formed a bond after Boer crashed into a pond and Edwards was the first on the scene. “I pulled him out of the water and got him onto life flight,” Edwards said. “But Justin kept on pursuing his dream of flying.”
Boer, originally from Bend, Ore., was partially paralyzed from the crash, but it didn’t stop him. He became a representative for an air sports company and moved to Hawaii to fly and continue therapy. He also started a licensed school, Freeboern Air Sports, to teach people to paraglide and use speed wings.
That’s how the partnership started. Boer brought the licensed school to the table. Edwards, who grew up on a farm near Pocatello and learned to fly after meeting a skydiver for a college report at Boise State University, had the inside track with Idaho landowners.
“We’re bringing a new site to the community,” Edwards said. “We can fly 270 degrees off the mountain on both sides.”
It’s something the Boise flight community has needed since the regulations changed at the main meeting spot near the old Ben’s Crow Inn in East Boise. That site had been a free-fly zone for hang gliders, paragliders and speed wings since 1957, Edwards said. It was a place where the flight community could train, gather and share ideas. But that all changed a few years ago.
“The lady who owned the property (and let us fly) sold it to the city with one stipulation,” Edwards said. “‘You’ve got to let these guys still fly out here.’ But then the city sold it to the Fish and Game, which shut it down because they were observing animals. It took three years, but we finally got it opened back up but it’s only open for three months in the summer.”
And while the flight community’s gathering spots have shifted recently, so has the sport. Hang gliding is no longer en vogue, replaced by paragliding and speed flying. People still hang glide, Edwards said, and they’re welcome at the Horseshoe Bend park, but people mostly paraglide or speed fly now and the flight park will focus on those two disciplines.
And it’s safer than you might think. People start small and work their way up, some choosing to fly in light winds or with conservative parachute setups. Speed flying is the most radical of the two parachute sports, but as Edwards explains, both can be done conservatively.
Edwards and Boer emphasize the safety and fun in the sport and the diversity of participants’ backgrounds. “I’ve mentored Olympians, Air Force pilots, Navy SEALs [and] kayakers. We work with disabled people or amputees. So many different types of people get involved in the sport,” Edwards said.
And Horseshoe Bend seems like an ideal place to practice with its light winds and lack of heavy timber. Edwards and Boer wanted to buy a piece of property in the area, then lease, but nothing was working out. But their friend Loomis kept steering them toward a piece of property he owned on the other side of the river.
“Steve had been telling us about the other property,” Boer said. “We looked on Google Earth and it didn’t look that appealing. It was next to the transfer station. But as soon as the first site fell through we looked at the other one and it was way better. It was out of the way with a nice landing zone.”
So the duo leased the place from Loomis on the west side of Idaho 55 up the Old Emmett Highway just out of Horseshoe Bend and went to work building the site and raising money. And they noticed how much the community was behind them. “We had a public hearing in August and the whole courtroom was full of people,” Boer said. “We had 12 people testify that they were for the flight park. It was pretty heart-warming.”
The flight park will have a soft opening this fall. Next spring, it’ll host a grand opening. “Horseshoe Bend is near a cool city and it’s a passageway to all this adventure,” Boer said. “Our whole goal is to grow the sport of flying and this is a great spot to do it.”