Kathryn Albertson Park is unique among “Ribbon of Jewels” in Boise
Jamie Scott remembers walking with her great-grandmother, Kathryn Albertson, through the park that now bears Kathryn Albertson’s name. Albertson was overwhelmed at first when her husband Joe, founder of the Albertsons grocery store chain, named it after her.
“It was really a genuinely sweet and romantic gesture,” Scott said.
Today, 29 years later, Kathryn Albertson Park is ready for some upkeep. Some of its signs are faded. The trash cans are old. Canada geese congregate by the dozens in the grassy areas.
Boise Parks and Recreation is preparing a plan to spruce up the park. The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation is paying for the improvements with a $2.5 million donation, said Scott, the foundation’s president. The foundation also has put money toward development of Boise’s Whitewater Park and a makeover of Rhodes Skate Park.
A desert becomes an oasis
In the 1980s, Kathryn and Joe Albertson lived on the Bench just west of Americana Boulevard’s south end. Below them to the north, between the Bench and the Boise River, lay a horse pasture devoid of trees.
A trip to Victorian Gardens in Victoria, B.C., inspired an idea to turn that pasture into a nature-themed park. In 1988, Joe Albertson hired his friend and Boise landscape architect Hans Borbonus to come up with a design. Three ponds dominate the center of the park, fed by Settlers Canal just north of it.
Local residents donated trees and shrubs. The city dedicated the park on Oct. 17, 1989. Scott was 11 years old.
The park has grown into a space unlike any other in Boise — a quiet, 41-acre bubble on the southern edge of a booming Downtown. Birds chirp constantly. Ducks bob in the water, in search of food. Every so often, a deer or fox appears.
Kathryn Albertson, who died in 2002, “was a lover of nature. She spent all of her weekends outdoors,” Scott said. “The shocking transformation from desert, barren horse pasture to water and all these mature trees and all this green space — it’s almost hard to remember what it looked like 30 years ago.”
Charles Stanley, an 80-year-old retired home builder who’s been in Boise since he moved from Minnesota more than 50 years ago, said he visits the park most weekdays to sit and take in the scene. He’s seen deer, turtles, herons, foxes and mink.
“You can kind of forget you’re in a city,” Stanley said.
The plan comes into focus
Two years ago, Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said, his department began working with the foundation to plan the upgrade. At first, their discussions were mostly about replacing the faded interpretive signs and moving them closer to paths that meander through the park.
Before long, foundation leaders like Scott were talking about improvements similar to the refresher on tap for Ann Morrison Park, just east of Kathryn Albertson Park across Americana Boulevard. The department held a public meeting this spring to introduce a proposal to the public and institutional stakeholders, like the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Feedback led to a decision to scrap a plan for a bridge linking the mainland to an island on the park’s west side. Fish and Game wanted that island left alone as a refuge for animals looking to get away from people in the park, Holloway said, and some residents agreed.
Scott would like some additions to highlight interesting features. For example, she said, the tiles on the gazebo roof come from the original Albertsons store on 16th and State streets. But there’s no sign to tell people that.
“It’d be cool to do that, actually,” Holloway said.
A park as a classroom
After a second meeting Aug. 22, the city is close to completing the plan. The Parks and Recreation Commission is scheduled to vote on it Thursday, Sept. 20. The city hopes to start work early next year and finish the upgrade by summer.
Assuming it is approved, here is what you’ll see:
Decks. Five pier-like decks with benches will extend over the water, giving people places to hang out and read or relax and take in the scenery.
Entry plaza. A renovated entry plaza will sport new benches and a sign to give visitors an overview of the park. Wood screening will replace a split-rail fence around a utility box near the parking lot.
Benches, trash cans, dog-waste stations. New furnishings will replace old ones that look worn.
Boardwalk. A new boardwalk will loop through the southeast corner. Holloway said it will roughly trace an unofficial path that visitors have worn in the ground.
Native grasses. Native species of grasses will replace lawn areas, with the goal of driving away geese — generally seen as pests in Boise, as they are in parks nationwide, thanks to their droppings and aggressive behavior. Holloway said the droppings contribute to pollution in the ponds, where swimming isn’t allowed. Parks and Recreation wants to dredge the ponds to clean them someday, he said, but the city hasn’t allocated money for that.
Themed signs. The park’s paths would get signs to reflect the types of animals and plants there, Holloway said.
Signs along the southern edge will describe the role of mammals such as deer, foxes and coyotes in the park’s ecosystem, their origins, history in Idaho and behavior in the wild.
Near the ponds in the center of the park, signs will explain the presence of waterfowl, amphibians and reptiles.
The northeast and eastern sides will have a pollinator theme, focusing on the role of butterflies, bees and other insects in the park’s plant life.
“It’s more than just a passive park where you can enjoy the wildlife,” Holloway said. “Now, you have an opportunity to interact with signage that would give you even more information, more background on what is actually in the park.”
Maybe Scott will get the tile-explanation sign she wants, too.
Scott said her great-grandmother “would have given her stamp of approval to make sure that people of all ages were learning something new every time they came here, that they felt inspired by just how beautiful it is.”