Outdoors Blog

One of Idaho’s most popular free campgrounds will start charging in July

Horsethief Reservoir’s fishing and tranquil location have made it a popular camping spot.
Horsethief Reservoir’s fishing and tranquil location have made it a popular camping spot. Idaho Fish and Game

The highly popular, free campground at Horsethief Reservoir will switch to a pay-to-stay model in July as Idaho Fish and Game and the Treasure Valley Family YMCA partner to improve the facility.

Fish and Game, which owns Horsethief Reservoir and the campground, doesn’t have statutory authority to charge for camping. So the department has reached a two-year management agreement with the YMCA, which will charge $15 per night beginning July 1. All fees will be utilized to make improvements to the camping experience, including having a paid employee for six to eight months of the year who will oversee the campground while working at the adjacent Y Camp: Horsethief Reservoir.

The popularity of Horsethief’s almost-accidental campground had forced Fish and Game to spend half of its $50,000 annual budget for fishing and boater access in the Southwest region on Horsethief, said Joe Kozfkay, fisheries supervisor for Fish and Game. The region has about 50 sites.

“We kind of feel like anglers were subsidizing the camping of others,” Kozfkay said. “It really wasn’t fair in our mind.”

The new arrangement likely will cut Fish and Game’s Horsethief-related expenses to about $10,000, Kozfkay said. That will allow the department to catch up on “maintenance we’ve been neglecting” at other sites, he said.

The YMCA, meanwhile, gets to improve the neighborhood around its $22 million, 415-acre facility that opened nine years ago as a camp for children (more than 2,000 per summer), families and business groups.

Fish and Game will handle fish stocking, rules enforcement and area maintenance. The YMCA will manage the campground.

“The campground is really the front door to our Y Camp,” said Cliff Naumann, the chief operating officer of the Treasure Valley Family YMCA.

The primitive campground rose up around Horsethief as anglers descended on the area and created their own spots. The reservoir was built in 1967 and Fish and Game formalized the campground to try to limit the damage being done by vehicles, campfires and the lack of restrooms. The campground has grown to nearly 120 sites.

Fish and Game has faced challenges in managing the campground, including at times the behavior of those staying there, Kozfkay said. The department was forced to close the campground in mid-August last season because the host resigned.

“Fish and Game was really trying to provide a better experience for people there,” said David Duro, the CEO of Treasure Valley Family YMCA. “It’s hard for them because they’re not up there during the summer, but we have staff and volunteers there every day of the week. It seemed like a good way for us to keep an eye on things and also make it easier and cheaper for the state. ... We hope people will enjoy the outdoors responsibly.”

This season, only the 85 campsites on the west side of the reservoir are open. The 32 sites on the east side — known as Horsethief Creek — likely won’t open this year because of hazard-tree removal and construction projects, Kozfkay said.

The partnership with the YMCA will be reviewed after two years.

“Both parties will come together at that time to discuss whether a long-term agreement is in the cards,” Kozfkay said. “If so, the public will benefit by having cleaner, safer campgrounds and a longer camping season for years to come.”

Free Fishing Day is June 10

If you’re an infrequent angler or just want to give the pastime a try, June 10 is the day to grab your pole. License requirements are suspended for the day. All other rules, such as limits and tackle restrictions, remain in effect. Special events are planned across the Treasure Valley with equipment available for use and experts on hand to help. A full list of events is available at idfg.idaho.gov. McDevitt Pond in Boise will have an event from 8 a.m. to noon and Kleiner Pond in Meridian will have an event from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.