New bridges will aid Dry Creek and the fish within
I pull into the upper Dry Creek parking lot just in time to see Sara Arkle, the city of Boise’s Foothills and open space superintendent, step out of her Subaru, ready to roll in a yellow bike jersey and backpack. It’s a hot summer day in the Boise Foothills and the Mormon crickets are as thick as, well, Mormon crickets — their big, black bodies hanging from every shrub and tree branch. Arkle is taking me on a hiking tour of the Dry Creek trail system.
Videographer Travis Meier pulls up behind me. He jumps out of his ride with his camera gear and enthusiastically proclaims himself ready to go.
So we set off down the dusty trail to meet with the main Dry Creek route as it weaves through the rocky, desert canyon (the trailhead is about 3 miles up Bogus Basin road from Highlands Elementary). While Dry Creek — one of Boise’s classic trails — has long been used by hikers and bikers, it was officially given as a gift to the city in 2014. “It’s actually private property owned by the Grossman family,” says Arkle. “They donated a recreational easement to the city that is basically permanent. They gave us, very generously, a commitment to providing this area for folks to enjoy.”
Dry Creek is a perennial stream in the Boise Foothills, meaning it nearly always has water. Which brings up another important ecological aspect to this novelty of a streambed: It’s home to native habitat of redband trout. The small, colorful species lives, breeds and dies within the stream.
That’s one reason why Arkle and Ridge to Rivers Manager David Gordon have been working so hard in the area lately. During the summer of 2015, the biology department at the College of Idaho, led by Chris Walser, conducted a study of the streambed and the redband habitat. Hikers, bikers and trail runners are constantly crossing the creek, causing erosion by unnaturally widening the bed, which then creates sediment that mixes into the stream, wreaking havoc on habitat. “They looked at all the crossings and rated the ones that most impacted the trout,” Gordon says. The study found six crossings along Dry Creek that were in serious need of repair. So Gordon and his team have worked to build new wooden bridges and natural-looking retaining walls where needed. They’ve completed four bridges in the Dry Creek system and are working on the final two.
As we continue up the trail, Meier hustles to get photos and video of the canyon while Arkle gives us the rundown on the environment. We’re looking for the mysterious trout but they’re proving to be elusive little buggers. We reach the confluence of Dry Creek and Shingle Creek, another trail system that joins Dry Creek. “I see one,” I yell to Meier while standing in a clear pool up to my knees. But before we can capture the 3-inch fish on video, it’s gone.
As we’re about to move on, Meier stops us. “I’m going to hang back here and get some shots. I’ll catch up,” he says. So Arkle and I continue up the trail, Mormon crickets squishing beneath our feet. As we continue, the ecological nature of the area changes dramatically. “That’s what’s so amazing about this trail,” she says. “You go from sagebrush steppe to intermountain habitat with Douglas fir and Ponderosa pines right out your back door.” It’s almost like a rainforest, as the north-facing slopes become thick with green brush and beautiful pine trees. The heat feels much less oppressive in the shade of the canyon.
After awhile, we begin to wonder where Meier is. Suddenly, we hear a shrill call through the forest. Arkle begins half sprinting back down the trail. I struggle to keep up, kicking dust all over the place and sweating like a gorilla. “I hope he didn’t get bitten by a rattlesnake,” she says. “Or break an ankle.” Good lord, I think to myself, we’ve killed the intern.
In full sprint, Arkle and I finally reach Meier, who’s calmly walking up the trail, packing his camera gear. He holds his arms up and half laughs as Arkle and I pant like a pair of overheated Labradors. “Sorry,” he says. “I took the right onto the Shingle Creek trail instead of the left and I just yelled to find you.”
Meier’s misstep deftly illustrates another incredible aspect of this trail, though. Thanks to Arkle, Gordon and the help of other volunteers and agencies, Dry Creek can now be combined with the upper trails coming off Bogus Basin, forming an intricate network and a world-class destination for mountain bikers.
“I think it’s a really unique trail,” says Gordon. “You get up there and you feel a long ways from Boise. And there’s the opportunity now to tie into other trails off the Ridge Road like Hard Guy, Around the Mountain, Eastside and Sweet Connie. We’ve worked for years to get east-west connections in the Boise Foothills. This has opened up a north-south connection from the lowlands to the highlands.”
As we descend back toward the vehicles, the sun is well overhead and we’re all ready for a water break (and a cold shower). Trail runners pass us and a mountain biker crosses one of the new bridges to meet up with Hard Guy. “We’re so lucky to have this,” Arkle says. “And you’ve got to appreciate it because you never know how long we’ll have the resource, if private land will change hands or other factors will come into play to limit access. It’s truly a unique recreational resource.”
Joe Carberry is a freelance journalist who grew up in Boise. He has covered sports and the outdoor lifestyle for nearly two decades. Travis Meier is the Statesman's video intern.