Outdoors Blog

Greenbelt’s longest open section boasts unique features — and some perils

The longest dry, open stretch of the Boise River Greenbelt might be the most interesting on the iconic path.

You can learn some history about the east end of Boise, watch how several dam projects have influenced the river, spot wildlife and rock climbers and gaze into the 712-acre Barber Pool Conservation Area.

But the stretch has some safety challenges, particularly the 1.75 miles from just east of Idaho Shakespeare Festival to Diversion Dam.

The segment covers 9.2 miles from Marden Lane near Warm Springs Golf Course to Lucky Peak State Park. It’s the only place where more than a half-mile of the primary Greenbelt route is open after local governments closed the majority of the path because of flooding. With river flows expected to remain dangerously high at least into June, the eastern Greenbelt likely will see an influx of users.

“It’s obviously a different experience than you’re going to get riding or walking on the Greenbelt through the center of town where you’re really close to the river,” said Scott Koberg, the director of Ada County Parks and Waterways. “That’s why all that is closed — it’s too close to the river and too dangerous. This stretch of Greenbelt has some pretty wide-open views. ... There’s some unique features to this stretch.”

Unfortunately, one of those unique features is the narrow part along Barber Pool. The usable space on the deteriorating asphalt is as little as 7 feet in some areas, with a canal on one side and a steep bank that drops toward the river on the other. For that reason, Koberg recommends that young children, rollerbladers and people with strollers stick to the stretch from Marden to Idaho Shakespeare Festival, which is about 4.5 miles.

If you continue on toward Lucky Peak, Koberg said, “be cautious with your speed of travel, be cautious with your width of travel and just be really aware.”

“You have to be cautious more than on other sections of the Greenbelt,” he said. “It’s just narrow and pretty steep on both sides.”

Parking options include a 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 also 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.

I met Koberg at Warm Springs Golf Course for a tour of the eastern Greenbelt. Here are some points of interest along the route with mileage from the golf course:

0.35: An interpretive sign on the right side highlights Goodwin Dam, which was used as part of the first permanent sawmill in Boise — built in 1882. A ditch carried logs to the mill at the north end of the current golf course. Part of the ditch still runs along the golf course. The mill closed in 1925. The Greenbelt in this area formerly was part of the Union Pacific railway.

“You’ll learn a lot on this stretch of Greenbelt,” Koberg said. “You’ll also see parts of the river that you don’t typically see from a roadway or anywhere else.”

0.5: About now, if you’ve pedaled here before, you’ll wonder where all those nasty tree roots and other bumps went. Ada County widened and resurfaced the Greenbelt for 1.25 miles from the golf course last fall. The path is now 11 feet wide — about 18 inches wider than before — and gloriously smooth for anyone who’d ridden the previous version.

1.44: Stop at the interpretive sign on the left for Kelly Hot Springs, which was a resort for 40 years through 1911. The area is rich with American Indian history — they used the spot as a permanent campsite before white settlers arrived. Because of flooding, this is where you’ll need to hop onto Parkcenter Boulevard if you want to cross the river to visit the restaurants at Bown Crossing.

2.1: A Y in the Greenbelt marks the spot where you can turn to enter Marianne Williams Park, a great place for bird watching or a quiet walk. Unfortunately, flooding has closed the Greenbelt stretch that runs through the park. Turn left to keep going east.

2.7: Another junction offers the chance to turn right to access Barber Park. There’s a bike-repair station at this spot. Turn left to keep going east, and be careful as you work through a construction project on Eckert Road that has torn up a couple parts of the path.

3.3: Lucky 13 is the only restaurant that sits on this stretch of Greenbelt (the golf course serves food). Lucky 13, which specializes in pizza and sandwiches, relocated to Harris Ranch from the North End. There’s outdoors seating and a full-service bar.

3.6: You can take a quick side trip to historic Barber Dam, which still is used to create hydroelectric power. Turn right on Lysted Avenue and walk down the access road to the dam, where a short river trail provides a portage route around the dam for boaters. Koberg advises waiting until river flows drop before venturing onto the river trail.

3.8: Idaho State Parks and Recreation and the Idaho Shakespeare Festival are on the right. Both organizations allow the public to use the combined parking lot for Greenbelt access. If you enter the Shakespeare Festival by the box office, you can wander the nature trails for a look at Barber Pool.

3.82: At the Ada County Sesquicentennial sign you’ll find public restrooms and a drinking fountain. This is the last public restroom until you get to Lucky Peak State Park. This makes a good turnaround spot if you’re riding with young kids because the path is about to get narrow and bumpy.

4.3: The path drops away from Warm Springs Avenue and toward the river, where you’ll ride along the rim above Barber Pool. The first interpretive sign provides more American Indian history. The Boise Valley sometimes was called Peace Valley with four main tribes meeting to feast and trade. A second sign points out that wintering bald eagles utilize Barber Pool — a wildlife preserve where people aren’t allowed.

4.4: This is where you’ll start to wonder what happened to the path. It drops to 9 feet wide, with as little as 7 feet of usable space. The Penitentiary Canal on the left and a steep fall-off on the right make it seem even narrower. There’s no center dividing line, and little room to pull over. This goes on for 1.75 miles — and it’s the reason Koberg says not everyone should ride here.

“Due to the potential higher volume of users on the pathway, I would not recommend the segment between (the restroom and Lucky Peak) to users with young kids, inexperienced cyclists, strollers, leashed pets, rollerbladers, etc.,” he said. “... It can’t handle a ton of volume because it’s not that wide.”

Ada County is working with the Bureau of Reclamation and Boise Project Board of Control on a plan to pipe the canal and expand the Greenbelt to 12 feet with shoulder room, with hopes to begin that work this fall. That would make this one of the best stretches on the Greenbelt, Koberg said, but it’s far from that now.

The project, which hasn’t been green-lighted by all parties yet, would cost more than $2 million, Koberg said.

“I would imagine we’ll get a lot more people’s eyes on that section,” he said, “and hopefully they’ll understand the need for that project. It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction we get.”

5.75: An access ramp on the left is for downhill traffic only, coming off of Idaho 21.

6.15: Stop to take a look at Diversion Dam, which opened in 1909 to form the New York Canal — the delivery system for irrigation water across the Treasure Valley. Then prepare for the wind, which tends to blow along Idaho 21. As you travel through the Black Cliffs, glance across the highway to see if you can spot rock climbers.

“It gives you an opportunity to really take in the awesome natural features coming through that canyon,” Koberg said.

7.95: The Discovery Unit of Lucky Peak State Park is popular with paddleboarders. It’s also a spot to check out the water flowing through Lucky Peak Dam — a massive flow right now that creates turbulence in the river.

8.5: Welcome to the Sandy Point Unit of the state park — and the last stop on the Warm Springs Golf Course-to-Lucky Peak tour. Park a car here to shuttle yourself back, bring a picnic lunch or make a U-turn and hope the breeze will push you all the way back to where you started. The elevation at the park is 2,750 feet — just 20 feet higher than the golf course.

Hiking, Biking & Trails — a public event

Idaho Outdoors will celebrate its latest special section with a public event featuring four local experts — Hiking, Biking & Trails, presented by The Pulse Running & Fitness Shop. The event will run from 5 to 7 p.m. April 26 at Payette Brewing Co. in Boise. Topics will include places to hike, bike and run, ways to get outdoors more often and how you can help preserve Idaho’s vast network of trails. Tickets are on sale for $10 at idahooutdoors.eventbrite.com.

The panel discussion moderated by Playing Outdoors reporter Chadd Cripe will feature the following panelists: Sara Arkle, Foothills and open space superintendent for Boise Parks and Recreation; Leo Hennessy, non-motorized trails coordinator for Idaho State Parks and Recreation; Holly Finch, owner of The Pulse Running & Fitness Shop; and Dennis Swift, secretary of the Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association.

The Hiking, Biking & Trails section will appear April 26 in the Idaho Statesman and at IdahoStatesman.com.