Outdoors Blog

Take a sneak peek at Boise WaterShed’s river campus, where kids can be ‘dam managers’

The Boise WaterShed’s new outdoor river campus combines interactive exhibits — what kid doesn’t like to play in water? — and beautiful artwork to try to interest children and adults in water conservation.

The river campus is scheduled to open March 1 with a grand opening in mid-April. The indoor exhibit hall, which opened in 2008, will close in mid-December for renovation and new interior exhibits and re-open in March.

The river campus is mostly completed but the water isn’t flowing because of cold temperatures.

“We built the river campus to show our visitors about the big picture of the watershed from the headwaters above Lucky Peak reservoir and dam all the way down to the Snake River,” said Nellie Baker, executive director of Boise WaterShed Exhibits, “so people that come to the WaterShed can see all the uses of water, how we’re working to protect it and conserve it and keep it clean for our children’s future.”

The $3 million river campus uses a series of structures designed by artists to represent elements of the watershed. It starts with a water sculpture that represents the headwaters of the Boise River.

“It shows the pristine nature of the water when we first get it in our watershed,” Baker said.

The water fills a basin and spills into another basin, which is Lucky Peak Lake. It spills from there through Lucky Peak Dam, which has a bunch of valves kids can open and close to create flood or drought conditions. That water flows into a river channel that can hold about 4 inches of water and flows through the campus. Kids can use rocks to create diversions in the river and see what happens when pollutants are introduced.

“They can be dam managers and understand a little about how we manage water flow into the Boise River,” Baker said.

Other elements include a playground of sewer pipes, representing the wastewater treatment plant; a wetlands; two agricultural plots with a small irrigation canal; H2O sculptures representing water; benches carved with water-life scenes (fish, birds, etc.); and a series of interactive stations for weaving, shelter building, giant Jenga (shows what happens when you remove a key piece of the watershed) and other activities.

The artwork was an important part of the project because it was funded with help from the City of Boise Percent-for-Art Program. Boise WaterShed is a city facility; Boise WaterShed Exhibits is a non-profit, fundraising organization.

“We use art in order to develop an emotional connection to the science of the watershed so that people care about it and learn in a different way than just listening to us tell them about it,” Baker said.

The outdoor campus is designed to engage children but the hope is that their parents pay attention, too.

“We want to not only educate children but also the adults that are the decision-makers right now,” Baker said. “... (The Boise River) is the jewel in the center of our city now and we want to make sure we keep it that way.”

Getting there: The Boise WaterShed is at 11818 Joplin Road. From Chinden, turn north on Joplin and left on Ancell. Admission is free.