The Ridge to Rivers Trail System – an 85,000 Acre Playground in Boise’s Backyard
Boise and its surrounding are often said to be characterized by the plenitude of outdoor activities that are available. The foothills that give Boise its iconic backdrop are the scene of many of those activities, and this is made possible by the expansive system of trails found therein. The Ridge to Rivers Trail System is the product of an inter-agency partnership of entities on the city, county, state, and federal level. The purpose of this partnership is to make available and maintain a network of trails nearing 200 miles in total length for the use and enjoyment of area residents. Situated primarily in the Boise foothills and extending to the Boise River, these trails provide a number of outdoor recreational opportunities for locals and visitors.
In the late 1980’s, a group called the Boise Front Coalition generated the idea that Boise neighborhoods could be connected to public lands through a system of trails. The focus of the Coalition was on environmental preservation. Their goal was to protect, restore, and improve the habitat of the Boise Front watershed. At the time, use of many established trails was common on U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, but organizing a system for the designation and management of trails served the Coalition’s needs by allowing them to dictate appropriate use of specific areas, facilitating restoration projects in other areas.
Increased trail use prompted a group of trail users to draft a map of what an organized trail network could look like. The map created by this group was the foundation on which the Ridge to Rivers partnership was built. The first officially operating staff member under the partnership was hired in 1992. The vision of the partnership at that time was to expand the existing mapped system of 12 miles to 90 miles. Original estimates placed completion of that vision at ten years, but the ninety mile mark was reached in only eight. Soon after that, the City of Boise became the lead agency directing the Ridge to Rivers partnership. Since the inception of Ridge to Rivers, various public and private landowners have entered into agreements under the partnership for expansion of the trail system, and as of 2016 the total trail distance has reached 190 miles spanning 85,000 acres.
Expansion of the trail system took place largely as a result of the acquisition of portions of land now dedicated as reserves. These reserves and other distinct areas of the system are a helpful way of subdividing the vast network into understandable segments. The following are some of the reserves.
1. Oregon Trail Reserve
The Oregon Trail is one of the fundamental icons of western expansion. One stretch of that trail extends from nearby Bonneville Point to the Boise River. The Oregon Trail Reserve is intended to preserve a length of that trial and make it available for visitors to traverse themselves and see wagon ruts left behind by travelers a century and a half ago. The trails within this reserve are considered low difficulty, so trail-goers can expect a leisurely visit as they take in the historical significance of the location.
2. Military Reserve Associated with Ft. Boise, this 460 acre area was used by the U.S. Military for military maneuvers and gunnery practice in the time roughly between the Civil War and World War II. After the Military discontinued use of this area in the 1940’s, ownership of the land was transferred from the Federal Government to the City of Boise. Today it serves a dual purpose as a recreation and wildlife reserve, which means any recreational activities are allowed strictly in ways that do not compromise the natural state of the area.
3. Camel’s Back/Hulls Gulch Reserve
The adjacent Camel’s Back and Hulls Gulch areas are popular for their proximity to and accessibility from the populous North End of Boise. Hulls Gulch was saved from development in the 1990’s and today is well populated with wildlife. Camel’s Back is a hill that stands in a park of the same name at the tip of the reserve. The hill boasts exceptional views of the surrounding area, and is popular as a short hike with room for a sunny-day picnic at the top. The natural structure of the hill has been threatened by erosion due to use of non-sanctioned trails, so visitors are asked to give consideration to restoration efforts by staying strictly on designated trails.
Activities and Events
As in the beginning, one of the primary goals of the Ridge to Rivers partnership is to preserve the natural integrity of the areas it manages. With this in mind, activities permitted on specific trails are regulated according to the capacity and durability of each trail. For example, some trails are open for equestrian use; some allow dogs off-leash, some only on; some are designated for motorized use (motorcycles and ATVs,) some allow non-motorized bicycles, and some are restricted to pedestrians only. Due to the threat of erosion, the numbers of foot and bicycle races are limited (2 bike races and 4 foot races per year) and specific areas are designated for racing.
The Ridge to Rivers Trail System is a highlight of Boise for outdoors enthusiasts, fitness folk, animal lovers, nature preservationists and more. One of the greatest features of Idaho is demonstrated here, that even in the biggest city in the state, fantastic opportunities to be a guest in nature’s beautiful home are practically waiting at your back door.
Information in this article was gathered from the Ridge to Rivers official website, www.ridgetorivers.org.