Table Rock, the Boise River Greenbelt and Stack Rock are three of the most popular trail destinations in the Boise area — and the hiking and biking experience at all three will be affected this year.
The Table Rock trails were closed most of last winter in a pilot program to protect them from damage when muddy. The program could be extended for the 2017-18 winter as well.
The trails are open this spring but the landscape is much different than it was a year ago after the 2,500-acre Table Rock Fire of last summer. Rehab efforts are ongoing, and will be for years to come, but it’s difficult to miss the charred skeletons of the bitterbrush and sagebrush that are vital to wildlife.
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The city added 3,500 shrubs to the Table Rock area last fall. Much of the planting was done by 458 volunteers who participated in nine events.
Martha Brabec, the city of Boise’s Foothills restoration specialist, estimates 50 percent of the bitterbrush and sagebrush planted last fall survived the winter. That’s well ahead of the typical 20-25 percent rate — but the plants aren’t established yet.
“We still have a big hurdle with the summer drought,” she said.
The plantings are most noticeable along the Tram trail, which begins across the street from Warm Springs Golf Course. Bitterbrush seedlings are protected by white baskets because they are particularly attractive to wildlife. Many sagebrush seedlings are visible, too — often in the “fertile islands” created by charred bushes. That area was planted last fall because native plants already fared well there.
The large plateau that sits below Table Rock and is visible during the second half of a hike to the city landmark hasn’t been planted yet. Instead, it was treated with herbicide to kill invasive weeds. Those weeds fuel fires and make it difficult for native plants to thrive.
“Our first kind of triage was to combat the weeds coming up because we’re trying to break the cycle ... and introduce native plants back into that already monoculture of weeds,” said Sara Arkle, the Foothills manager for Boise Parks and Recreation.
The hillside should turn green, then gold, this year because of the cheatgrass, Brabec said.
“Over time, we hope that there will be a shrub overstory and perennial bunch grasses with wildflowers to create a nice forage for wildlife,” Brabec said. “We’ll see the (shrub) skeletons for a while, but the skeletons will give rise to new shrubs.”
Boise, Garden City, Eagle and Ada County have closed most of the Boise River Greenbelt this spring because of flooding. High water is expected to remain an issue at least into June, leaving cyclists searching for alternatives.
The only extended stretch of Greenbelt still open is the 9.2-mile segment from just west of Warm Springs Golf Course to Lucky Peak State Park. It’s an area worth exploring, with interpretive signs explaining some of the city’s history, the Barber Pool Conservation Area and interesting water works at Barber Dam, Diversion Dam and Lucky Peak Dam.
However, a 1.75-mile piece of the path along Barber Pool is in bad need of replacement and is so narrow that it presents safety issues for people with children. The usable surface gets as narrow as 7 feet, with a canal on one side and a steep drop to the river on the other.
Ada County hopes to begin a project this fall to widen and resurface that section.
“You have to be cautious more than on other sections of the Greenbelt,” said Scott Koberg, the director of Ada County Parks and Waterways. “It’s just narrow and pretty steep on both sides.”
The eastern Greenbelt still offers 4.5 miles of high-quality path from the parking lot on Marden to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
Parking options include the small lot on Marden (turn south off of Warm Springs Avenue by Adams Elementary), Marianne Williams Park (just east of the East Parkcenter Bridge) and the large shared parking lot at 5657 E. Warm Springs Ave. between Idaho State Parks and Recreation and Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Kristin Armstrong Municipal Park is an option but you have to use some city streets to get to the open Greenbelt. The city discourages Greenbelt parking at the golf course. Barber Park usually is an option but the parking lot there is flooded.
Boise purchased 1,320 acres in 2010 to create Stack Rock Reserve, a popular hiking and biking destination. The reserve remains accessible but the easiest route has been closed for much of the past year, and that closure will stay in place indefinitely this year.
Trail to Stack Rock, also known as Entrance Exam, is managed by the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley through an easement provided by private landowners. It has been closed to allow for logging activity in the area.
The 2-mile trail begins near mile marker 13 on Bogus Basin Road and connects to the top of Sweet Connie.
During the closure, the best route to Stack Rock Reserve is the 6.4-mile Eastside Trail that begins near Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area.