Outdoors

The camas are blooming near Fairfield, and Memorial Day weekend may be the peak

Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh comes alive

Each spring in late May and early June, Idaho's Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh erupts in beauty.
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Each spring in late May and early June, Idaho's Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh erupts in beauty.

The Camas Prairie, north of Mountain Home and on the way to Sun Valley along U.S. 20, attracts photographers and other visitors every year for the annual bloom of the blue camas.

This year’s bloom started about a week ago and could peak this weekend, said Terry Gregory, habitat biologist for Idaho Department of Fish and Game. After Memorial Day weekend, the bloom will last for about another week, he said.

Gregory lives adjacent to the 3,100-acre Camas Prairie Centennial Marsh Wildlife Management Area. The flowers bloom here and there all across the high prairie, but the marsh generally provides the best show.

You might also see sandhill cranes, avocet, black-necked stilts and all manner of ducks. You may see pronghorn antelope on the prairie as you drive to the marsh. Bring binoculars to get closer looks.

The intensity of the bloom can depend on the amount of moisture brought by winter snows in the Bennett and the Soldier mountains that border the prairie, and the spring runoff along Camas Creek. But the moisture amount does not always forecast the intensity of the bloom. This past winter had plenty of snow, yet the bloom is not spectacular this year, Gregory said.

“I’ve seen them bloom pretty well in low-water years and poorly after wet years,” he said. “In over 30 years, I’ve never figured them out.”

The plant’s bulbs provided an important food source for Native Americans throughout history.

Whatever the runoff, the trip is worthwhile for the vibrant color and the concerto of croaking, squawking, cooing and quacking coming from the marsh.

It’s also a good educational experience for families. You can picnic on a dry area at the end of a rough road in the middle of the marsh where Idaho Fish and Game has installed a picnic table, interpretative signs and a concrete outhouse (which might not be very clean). Primitive camping is permitted there, too.

Consider exploring the nearby back roads. County roads are straight as an arrow in some places; if you’re a cyclist you can make rides in huge squares or rectangles 3, 6 and 12 miles long.

Then there’s Bennett Mountain Road, just off U.S. 20. If you stop for a picnic or hike, be mindful that most of the property along Bennett Mountain Road is private.

Still need a bird fix after the marsh? See bluebirds — the Idaho state bird — along Elma Goodman Mountain Bluebird Trail. A sign designating the trail can be found at the intersection of Bennett Mountain and Hill City roads.

Business Editor David Staats contributed.

Getting there

Go to the Centennial Marsh Wildlife Management Area by driving east on Interstate 84 from the Treasure Valley to the second exit in Mountain Home that goes to Sun Valley. Drive U.S. 20 north to Hill City and look for the sign to Centennial Marsh. It’s a 90-mile drive.

Bennett Mountain Road is well before you reach Hill City. It’s about 30 miles from Mountain Home and about 6 miles past Little Camas Reservoir. As you proceed past Little Camas Reservoir and climb through the canyon to the top of the prairie, look for one of the first main gravel roads going off to the south.

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