Barber Pool: Boise’s “Anchor for wildlife and humanity”

It’s a warm night with a slight western breeze floating through from Oregon, and it’s dark out but you wouldn’t know it from the moonlight draped across the Boise foothills. Just six miles away I can see the lights and buildings of downtown—a few square blocks with all the benefits and attractions of city nightlife—where people are out enjoying restaurants and clubs, just a short bike ride from Barber Pool, where I sit overlooking one of Idaho’s “Top 12 ecosystems,” surrounded by homes, yet listening still to the river rush, the coyotes calling to each other. The smell of cool water and dusty sage mingles with fresh-cut lawns and the mature Ponderosa Pine planted next to this lookout area. The hills seem to glow as they stretch off into the distance along the entire valley, and I say out loud to no one in particular, “I love it here.”

The Barber Pool Conservation Area (located in Southeast Boise) is an impressive 700 acre natural refuge located right within Boise city limits, Barber Pool contains a wide variety of habitats which allow for a number of different species of wildlife to thrive there. Trees, rivers, wetlands, and grasslands are home to many animals from red-tailed hawks to bald eagles, from coyotes to mule deer, pheasants, and beaver. In fact, more than 200 species of birds and around 60 species of mammals are able to coexist there. Everyone from birdwatchers to botanists can enjoy the habitat, and since it is a conservation area there are some trails but no roads and no hunting is allowed.

The Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands, the privately held nonprofit who owns and manages the conservation area, was started in 1972 with the purpose of acquiring and preserving open spaces for the public. It has been doing just that ever since, having had many of their holdings donated to them for preservation, including Barber Pool. The name “Barber Pool” comes the original owners of the land, Barber Lumber Company, who had originally used the area for a mill pond. The plan to float logs down river proved unsustainable for the company, and the mill was dismantled in the thirties, which included draining the pool. The land changed hands through the years, but was eventually donated to the foundation by Boise Cascade in 1978. Despite the area having been altered by industry in this way, though, it acts as its own functional habitat, and is preserved by the foundation as such. Their website refers to the area as, “The anchor for wildlife and humanity at the top of our great metropolitan area.”

To the residents who live around Barber Pool, the natural beauty and ample wildlife contribute greatly to what it means to live in Boise. For example, the refuge is literally in the back yards for some folks living in places like the Surprise Valley subdivision, which overlooks Barber Pool with the beautiful foothills towering in the distance. There is a public lookout area there where anybody can sit, on a warm night perhaps, and take in the area from above. Eventually, the Foundation plans to build a more expansive park at the location. But, in addition to that, residents in this area enjoy a community atmosphere, mature tree-lined streets, and incredible views of the conservation area and its ample wildlife just a few yards away.

This area of Boise is nestled right at the edge of town where Gowen road begins its climb up to Lucky Peak reservoir, just a ten minute drive away, and across the river from the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. At the edge is Barber Park, where Boiseans can rent rafts and tubes and depart on a leisurely day of floating the Boise river all the way through town to Ann Morrison Park and be shuttled back up to either do it again or be on their way. Even with its close proximity to the city, The Barber Pool Conservation Area retains some of its wildness—the perfect example of the kind of fusion of natural beauty and urban development that keeps Boise on so many lists of great places to live.

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