Outdoors Blog

Don’t miss Table Rock’s lesser-known neighbor on Foothills hikes

Amber Beierle of the Idaho State Historical Society checks out the view from Castle Rock, which is a short hike from the Old Pen Trailhead.
Amber Beierle of the Idaho State Historical Society checks out the view from Castle Rock, which is a short hike from the Old Pen Trailhead. ccripe@idahostatesman.com

This is the latest in our “Discover the Boise Foothills” series of blog posts exploring different trails. On many of those trips, we’ll be joined by an expert who can provide some perspective on the land that has become one of Boise’s most popular and valuable assets.

This week: Castle Rock and Table Rock (and the history of that land)

Previously: Introduction, Hillside to Hollow (and rare plants), Corrals (and dog issues), Watchman (and the multi-agency Foothills partnership), the Hulls Gulch owls, Peggy’s Trail (and private landowners)

A group of American Indians held their sixth annual gathering at Boise’s Castle Rock earlier this month — a reminder of how important Table Rock’s lesser-known neighbor was to Boise’s earliest inhabitants.

The rock outcropping northwest of Table Rock and accessed from the same Old Pen Trailhead was a gathering place and burial ground for the tribes. I toured Castle Rock and Table Rock with Amber Beierle and Anthony Parry of the Idaho State Historical Society, who explained the cultural significance of the two natural landmarks as well as the two man-made landmarks added to Table Rock over the years — the B and the cross.

The Castle Rock area was referenced in an 1893 article in the Statesman when human bones and “Indian finery” were discovered by inmates working in the stone quarry on the site. It was preserved a century later, when the East End Neighborhood Association, American Indian tribes and the city of Boise worked together to purchase and create the Castle Rock Reserve. A tribute marker was placed at one of the entrances to the Castle Rock trail system in 2006.

“It was a sacred area,” Beierle said. “... It gets forgotten a lot.”

Castle Rock — also known as Eagle Rock to tribal members — is easy to visit. It’s a 0.38-mile walk from the Old Pen Trailhead with just 145 feet of elevation gain on the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes Loop (No. 19). The view isn’t as sweeping as the one from Table Rock, but it’s still a nice look at Downtown Boise.

And it’s a good warmup for the more challenging trek to Table Rock, which covers about 1.5 miles and 850 feet of elevation gain.

We spent much of our walk discussing the B — a letter placed on the hillside just below Table Rock by four Boise High students in 1931, Parry said. He’s working on the seven interpretive signs that will be added to the top of Table Rock this summer. Only one has been placed so far. Other Table Rock upgrades this year include new benches at the summit to replace the old concrete bench and vault toilets at the trailhead.

The B has been a source of school pride and a little controversy since it’s installation. Rival schools like to mess with the B and it was turned into a peace sign in the 1970s, Parry said. The rocks were cemented down to prevent any more movement. Still, graffiti and school pranks are an issue. A Boise High student is leading an Eagle Scout project this week to strip the old paint from the rocks and repaint them white.

The B was painted purple briefly this month in support of Alzheimer’s awareness with the permission of the Historical Society, a state agency that owns Table Rock and the surrounding land.

The B remains a target for unauthorized painting. It gets repainted once or twice a year, usually by community volunteers, to restore the clean, white look.

“Everybody knows it’s best when it’s white,” Beierle said.

The lighted cross, which appears to float above the city at night, was installed Jan. 8, 1956. Here’s what Parry has written about the cross for one of the upcoming interpretive signs:

“Inspired by an episode of the popular television show, ‘This Is Your Life,’ featuring a mail carrier who wanted to build a cross on a hill in his small town, the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycee) board took on the same idea for Table Rock. Idaho State Penitentiary Warden Clapp approved the concept and worked with the Bureau of Land Management and the Ministerial Association to collect resources for construction. The Jaycees never asked for donations, but with the help of local businessmen and children who sent in their allowances, the Jaycees collected $880 to finance the cost of the cross. They planned to raise the cross on Christmas day, 1955 but difficulty of the work delayed installation until January 8th, 1956. Nearly 200 people were in attendance. A bronze plaque was installed in appreciation and with the hope that the cross would provide inspiration. In 1971, the first controversy struck the cross as the U.S. Supreme Court demanded that a cross built on public land in Eugene, Oregon be taken down on the grounds that it violated a separation between church and state. To avoid controversy, the Boise Table Rock Jaycees later bought the land around the cross for $100 at an auction held by the Idaho State Land Board.”

The cross and the land underneath it are now owned by Table Rock Cross of the Idaho Jaycees Inc. That group was formed after ownership passed from the Boise Jaycees to the Capital Jaycees to the Idaho Jaycees, all of which disbanded, said Keith Gabriel, the president of the new organization.

The Table Rock Cross of the Idaho Jaycees Inc. board of directors meets once a year and is responsible for maintaining the cross and managing the expenses involved. The power bill is about $23 per month. The internal lights were replaced about four years ago with LEDs and shouldn’t need replacements for several years. The group also pays property taxes on the .071-acre parcel. The latest assessed value was $6,000 — 60 times the original purchase price.

The expenses are funded by the interest from a donation to the Idaho Community Foundation by Dick and Betty Jordan — one of the families that originally installed the cross, Gabriel said.

Gabriel found the deed to the land when he went through some boxes after his wife died in 2000. The deed named the Boise Jaycees.

“It kind of concerned me,” he said. “I found out they had started this new organization. People say if you haven’t looked in a box for five years, throw it away. No, don’t do that. It might be something important.”

Getting there: The Old Pen trailhead is behind the Old Idaho Penitentiary. Turn east on Old Penitentiary Road from Warm Springs Avenue.

Up next: The overlap of Ridge to Rivers and the Boise River Wildlife Management Area.

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