Volunteers Enhance Habitat in New Eagle Park

The Boise River Enhancement Network teamed up with Eagle Parks and Recreation to enhance riparian habitat at a new park site along the Boise River in 2019. The project doubled as an outdoor classroom to teach willow harvesting and planting techniques. The site of the future Woods Park includes two ponds that initially had little native vegetation to provide habitat for birds and animals and shade the water. Weeds dominated the shoreline and upland. The City of Eagle plans to have Woods Park be a natural area for walking, bird watching and enjoying nature.

A Wet Beginning

The project kicked off on February 28 with a willow harvesting workshop taught by Roger Rosentreter.  In cooperation with the Wetlands Group, participants harvested willow stakes from the wetland at Willow Lane Park. The day was damp, but timing is everything for successful harvesting and planting of willows. It was important to get the willows in the ground before they started their spring growth. Dozens of stakes were carefully cut and bundled. They were taken to the pond at Woods Park and submerged to start the growing process. We were afraid beavers might make off with them in the few days they were there. Luckily, they were all there when we returned to plant them.


259 Stakes to Plant

Planting day was March 9.  With the support of the Idaho Fish Department and Game (IDFG), Suez, City of Eagle, The River District HOA, and expertise provided by Roger Rosentreter, 20 people learned about willow biology and the proper techniques for planting. They learned how to use a variety of tools, including a water jet stinger provided by IDFG, and enjoyed a hot lunch provided by Suez. Volunteers harvested even more stakes along the river and planted those along with the stakes that had been soaking in the pond. In total, 259 willows were planted. The water level in the ponds was low on March 9, but we knew that would change as flows in the Boise River increased. We had to guess how close to the water line to plant them.

using the stinger     volunteer team group

New Growth!

The willows were growing by April 6.  There were new leaves and sprouts on almost all of them, with the exception of the ones that had become beaver food.  While beavers generally don’t kill well-established willows, we worried our newly-planted stakes wouldn’t survive.

sprouting willow stake       

Rising Water

Flows in the Boise River started to increase in mid-April when the dam managers released water from the reservoirs to make room for spring runoff.  The ponds at Woods Park are hydrologically connected to the river, so when the river rises, the ponds do too.  The water slowly crept up, inundating the willows inch by inch. There was no way to know how high the water would get or for how long. Would the willows survive? We didn’t know it at the time, but flows in the Boise River would stay very high until July.

innundated willow stakes

Earth Day Action

BREN teamed up with 35 employees of Xylem/Sensus on April 22, Earth Day, to clear weeds and harvest and plant hundreds more willows at Woods Park. The water level in the ponds was significantly higher than the March 9th planting day. Many of the willows planted in March were underwater. The April 22 volunteers were forced to plant higher on the bank, meaning the willows would have farther to go to reach water in the summer. Would they survive?

post hole digger       volunteer with tool

Hot and Dry Summer

The Woods Park willows were left alone over the hot, dry summer. There was a lot to worry about. The willows planted low remained inundated for weeks and the willows planted high didn’t receive a drop of rain to tide them over while their roots pushed down to the water table.  Inspections in August and October revealed the weeds had not suffered in the least from the growing conditions. The kochia, Russian thistle, tumble mustard, poison hemlock and other weeds were thriving. But in and among the weeds were the willows. A few willows towered over the weeds. Others were struggling beneath a mass of weeds. There were many variables including a variety of species of willows. The first lesson we had learned was to plant more than you want because they won’t all make it.

The photo and closeup below are of one of the tallest willows. Look carefully to the left in the closeup and you’ll see a stake that didn’t make it (this year).

willow   upclose

It was hard to believe the big willows had grown from the tiny stakes we’d planted, but a close look revealed the cut the volunteers had made when harvesting or the flagging we had tied around the stakes.  We had painted the stakes harvested on February 28 to help us distinguish them from the others, and the paint was still visible! See the blue tint in the middle photo. In October, we found willows of a wide variety of sizes, from single stakes to large bushes. The willows that were planted too low (completely inundated) or planted too high on the steep banks had higher mortality.


9 Short Months

In nine short months, BREN volunteers transformed much of the shoreline of the Woods Park ponds. The willows are well established and should flourish. On November 2, BREN is returning to Woods Park to plant other native riparian plants to continue to enhance the habitat. For more information about Wetland and Riparian Habitat on the Boise River, please refer to the Boise River Enhancement Plan, created by the BREN community in 2015.

March 9, April 22 and October 6

pounding in stakes    



Accepting BREN Coordinating Team Applications!

We’re looking for new Coordinating Team members!

The Boise River is shared among everyone in the Treasure Valley, and Boise River Enhancement Network membership and leadership is inclusive.

Land owners, elected officials, water users, consultants, researchers, resource managers, river recreation enthusiasts, teachers, environmental advocates, government workers, water managers, business owners and all those who live, work and play in the Boise River Watershed are encouraged to apply.

The BREN Coordinating Team is elected by the General Members to act on behalf of BREN. Applications to be place on the ballot to serve on the BREN Coordinating Team will be accepted until August 31.

Learn more about the current Coordinating Team, responsibilities and election process. Please complete this Coordinating Team application by August 31, 2019. If you have any questions or ideas of who we could reach out to, please contact us at info@boiseriverenhancement.org.

Boise River Boogie in One Month

By Cassidy Connolly

The Boise River Enhancement Network’s 3rd annual Boise River Boogie Duathlon race is on September 15, 2019 in beautiful Esther Simplot Park. The all-ages race is brought to you by Boise Southwest Rotary Club with Corporate Sponsorship by Kennedy Wilson.

The proceeds go to the Boise River Enhancement Network and our cooperative work to improve riparian habitat in the new 100-acre Boise River Park in Middleton, Idaho. The riparian area will showcase natural species and ecological processes while providing an outstanding and easily accessible outdoor experience. It is so exciting that your participation will allow you to be a significant part in making this happen. Register now. 


Adult and Kid Course

The race starts with a fun paddle across Quinn’s Pond and back and ends with a beautiful 2 mile run on the Greenbelt. Challenge yourself to both parts of the race or split it up and compete together as a team of two. There’s also have a great course just for kids under 12. This shortened course is perfect for everyone to cheer them on as they race to the finish line. Kids also have the option to race as an individual or as a team of two. The race will be followed by a fun Boogie to celebrate everyone’s hard work. We will have live music from Joe Carberry, yummy snacks from Chobani, Blue Sky Bagel, Peaceful Belly, Darigold, Don Francisco’s Coffee, and Wildflour Bakery, and plenty of cold drinks. Lost Grove Brewery is generously providing the adult beverages. 

If you own your own SUP, canoe, or kayak please use it in the race. If you don’t, Idaho River Sports is providing free rentals to participants in the race on a first come first serve basis. Contact them to reserve yours at (208) 336-4844 or stop by their store at 601 N Whitewater Park Blvd, Boise, ID 83702. The look forward to getting you all set up for the race. Register now. 



Everyone Can be a Winner

Do you think you have what it takes to be a top contender in the race? We hope so because there are awesome prizes for our top racers to win. Athleta will be providing prizes to the top 3 individual females and the top girl. Shu’s Idaho Running Company will be providing prizes to the top 3 individual males and the top boy. Idaho River Sports will be providing prizes to the top 2 adult teams and Idaho Whitewater Association will be providing the prize for the top kids’ team. Top finishers also get a medal crafted and donated by AceCo.

Best of all, there’s a prize drawing and all racers and volunteers have a chance to win no matter how you place. Prizes are donated by The Local, Reyr Gear, Riverside Hotel, Push and Pour, Caffeina, Confluent Goods, Fleet Feet, Boise Gear Collective, Chipotle, Form and Function, Ian & Gina Wigger, Sheila Mills, North End Organic Nursery, Colleen Fellows and Telaya, 

The Boogie is also supported by McU Sports, Aerial Mastery, Suez, Natural Grocers, Revolusun, Smoky Mountain Pizzeria and Grill, and Specialty Construction Supply.

Register now to race or volunteer – Please join us for this fun event. Your support is appreciated. We expect this to be the best year yet, and look forward to seeing you there. 

We Have Liftoff for Cottonwood Creek Project

The collaborative Cottonwood Creek Daylighting project is picking up momentum.  The creek design shaping up and a new generation of Black Cottonwood trees are growing.This ambitious project will move Cottonwood Creek out of the buried flume where it has flowed for decades into an engineered creek channel on the east end of Julia Davis Park. Fish and birds will benefit, and visitors will enjoy the beauty of the small intermittent creek as it meanders through the park.

Artist rendering of the new channel for Cottonwood Creek provided by Ecosystem Sciences Foundation



Creek Design Taking Shape

The City of Boise is working with engineers to design the new creek and secure necessary permits. The placement of the new creek channel allows room for The Cabin to be located nearby, if the City decides to move it from its current location by the Boise Library. BREN Chairman Mike Homza said, “The possible relocation of The Cabin to our project area fell out of the sky like in the Wizard of Oz, but all parties are working well together to ensure this is a win-win-win.”

Once built, the new channel will need to be landscaped with native plants to maximize the benefit to local birds like Western Tanagers and Great Horned Owls and other wildlife.  Black Cottonwood trees are the only large tree native to the Boise River, and native birds and wildlife are highly dependent on them for food and shelter. Buying Black Cottonwood trees is expensive and trees available on the market are not grown from the seed of Boise River trees. BREN and partners decided to try our hand at growing Black Cottonwood from seed. With the help of enthusiastic volunteers, we’ve gotten off to a strong start.

Left: Western Tanager

Right: Great Horned Owl

Photos: Ken Miracle




We’re Growing Black Cottonwood Trees

BREN, City of Boise Parks and Recreation, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, Ted Trueblood Chapter Trout Unlimited and Land Trust of the Treasure Valley hosted two workshops to teach volunteers how to grow Black Cottonwood trees from seed. With help from local expert Dr. Rob Tiedemann, volunteers received a lesson on Black Cottonwood reproduction on May 29. Volunteers then helped fill containers with soil to be ready for planting.

Timing is Everything

Timing is everything when it comes to growing Black Cottonwoods – the tiny seeds don’t last long once they mature. We relied on expert opinion and best judgement to schedule a day to collect and plant. By June 15, the ground was covered in shed seeds. Had we waited too long?

With a boost provided by coffee donated by Starbucks, volunteers gathered seeds from trees by the river near Marden Lane.  Some volunteers brought seeds gathered from trees near their homes too. Seeds were gathered from different trees and different heights on the trees, and everything was carefully labeled. The action then moved to the City’s Laura Moore Cunningham Arboretum. With clear instructions on how to plant the seeds, the volunteers planted 319 containers. Everyone went home wondering if we’d done it right, if anything was going to grow. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long.

The Summer Solstice Surprise

A close look on June 21 revealed tiny green leaves had appeared. That was great news, but the best news was that seeds from every tree had germinated.  Growing trees from seeds has a clear genetic advantage over taking stakes or depending on runners from existing trees, and, if all keeps going well, the new Cottonwood Creek will have a healthy diversity of native Black Cottonwood. BREN and our partners will continue to involve volunteers in taking care of these trees – they likely won’t be ready for planting at Cottonwood Creek until 2021. Watch our email and Facebook for opportunities to participate.


Photos from top left: Dr. Rob Tiedemann explains how Black Cottonwood seeds develop, volunteers fill planting containers, empty planting containers, volunteers cut seeds pods from trees, seeds are labeled, Project Manager Andy Brunelle oversees the planting, seeds are laid on top of the soil, seedlings emerge, May 29 volunteers, one of two teams of June 15 volunteers

Cottonwood Creek’s Tumultuous Past

Learn about the tumultuous history of the City of Boise and Cottonwood Creek, the origins of the flume, examine maps of the Cottonwood Creek watershed and the route of the flume through East Boise, and discover how the wet winter of 2019 impacted Cottonwood Creek by visiting BREN’s Cottonwood Creek project page.

The Boise River Enhancement Network is a partner in a cooperative project to daylight Cottonwood Creek where it flows through Julia Davis Park and enters the Boise River. The creek currently runs through a stone flume under the park. A new natural creek channel will be constructed benefiting fish and wildlife, water quality and park visitors. The project leads are City of Boise and Trout Unlimited and partners include the Intermountain Bird Observatory, Ada County Highway District, Golden Eagle Audubon Society and Land Trust of the Treasure Valley. The project is funded, in part, by the US Bureau of Reclamation, the City of Boise Open Space and Clean Water Fund and the Idaho Foundation for Fish and Wildlife.

High Flows in Cottonwood Creek

by Kathy Peter and Liz Paul

On April 8, 2006, Cottonwood Creek reached its highest flow in the 16 years the current US Geological Survey (USGS) stream gage has been in operation. At 78 cubic feet per second (cfs), the flow was more than twice as high as the second highest peak flow recorded on January 17, 2011. In 2006, the water rose quickly from a daily mean of 18 cfs on April 3 to a daily mean of 74 cfs on April 8. The water receded more gradually, dropping below 10 cfs on April 19. 78 cfs is more than three times the highest flow yet in 2019.

Highest flow in 2019 (so far)

On March 28, 2019, the gage reported 18.7 cfs, the highest flow yet in 2019. The Cottonwood Creek gage is located high in the watershed, near Fivemile Creek. The USGS cooperatively operates it with City of Boise. Real-time data from the gage is transmitted via satellite to alert emergency managers of dangerously high flows.  The current flow doesn’t pose a flood risk, but it’s very fast and people should stay out of the channel.

The March 28 flow was the 5th highest flow in 16 years. In addition to the 2006 peak flow, high flows are as follows: January 17, 2011, 30 cfs, February 12, 2014, 25 cfs, and April 1, 2017, 20.7 cfs. The flow has exceeded 10 cfs in only 7 out of the 16 years. This year the flow has remained more than 10 cfs for two weeks. You can check the current flow here.

Cottonwood Creek above the confluence with Freestone Creek – March 28, 2019
Cottonwood Creek below the confluence with Freestone Creek – March 28, 2019

High and Steep, Wet and Dry

The Cottonwood Creek watershed is steep and much higher than Boise.  At its uppermost divide, the elevation is 6,000 feet and the average basin elevation is over 4,000 feet.  More than half the basin has slopes greater than 30 percent.  Because the high elevation receives greater snowfall than in town and also captures more  rain, the average annual precipitation in the basin is about 20 inches.  It also has a large area of surficial volcanic rocks.

As a result of its topography, geology, and climate, it accumulates snow in the winter that can melt off quickly in the spring, raising creek flow rapidly.  Some of the water soaks into the aquifer beneath the creek and this stored water returns to the creek after the initial peaks subside.
Water seeps out of the aquifer to the creek in the late spring and early summer, until the aquifer water table drops below the stream bottom. Cottonwood Creek is typically dry in the late summer, with the exception of heavy thunderstorms that can cause flash flooding.

Cottonwood Creek in the flume along Mountain Cove Road March 28, 2019
Cottonwood Creek flows under Mountain Cove Road into detention ponds. March 28, 2019.

Erosion Muddies the Creek

On March 28, Cottonwood Creek was brown with sediment. The fine sediment moved with the creek through the retention ponds all the way to the Boise River. A later trip to upstream sections of Cottonwood Creek revealed that the quick snow melt and heavy rain of March 27 and 28 caused significant erosion of Shaw Mountain Road. That could be the cause of the high sediment load.

Muddy Cottonwood Creek flows into clean Freestone Creek on March 28, 2019
Sediment-laden Cottonwood Creek flows into the Boise River March 28, 2019.

Videos Bring the Creek to Life

View 10 short videos of Cottonwood Creek taken on March 28, 2019 on the BREN YouTube channel. The still photos don’t do it justice.

Read about historic floods in Cottonwood Creek.

The Boise River Enhancement Network is a partner in a cooperative project to daylight Cottonwood Creek where it flows through Julia Davis Park and enters the Boise River. The creek currently runs through a stone flume under the park. A new natural creek channel will be constructed benefiting fish and wildlife, water quality and park visitors. The project leads are City of Boise and Trout Unlimited and partners include the Intermountain Bird Observatory, Ada County Highway District, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, and Land Trust of the Treasure Valley. The project is funded, in part, by the US Bureau of Reclamation, the City of Boise Open Space and Clean Water Fund and the Idaho Foundation for Fish and Wildlife.

All photos by Liz Paul.

Barber Dam: The Hydropower Project in our Backyard

By Mary Lucachick

The Barber Dam Hydroelectric Project is the closest hydroelectric power plant to Idaho’s capitol.  It’s located about 1/3 mile above Eckert Road east of downtown Boise. Fulcrum, LLC, a subsidiary of Enel Green Power North America, Inc., and Ada County are co-licensees. The 40-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license for the project, #4881, expires on November 30, 2023. Fulcrum, LLC and Ada County have filed a Notice of Intent and Pre-Application Document (PAD) to relicense the 3.7-megawatt project.

Barber Pool
Barber Pool

The initial licensing of this project in 1983 happened at a time when few people paid attention to the small project on the Boise River or the mill pond behind Barber Dam. Times have changed.  Relicensing is an opportunity for anyone with interest in the natural or cultural resources affected by the project. Everyone is welcome to come to the relicensing table and get involved in how the project will be operated in the future. 

Project Applicant webpage

BREN Barber Dam webpage

Rich History

BREN has hosted two public programs on project relicensing. Watch the videos. On February 1, John Falk from the Idaho Department of Water Resources Dam Safety Program shared historic information and amazing historic photos of the Barber Dam itself.  Massive logs were floated on a much higher Barber Pool and processed in sawmills on site.  Those sawmills were initially powered by water, and then after generation was installed, they were powered by electricity.  There is a long and rich history of industry at the dam and around the pool which is challenging to keep in perspective when you’re birding on the pool.  The story of how Barber Dam became a licensed hydropower project is interesting. This history and much more is laid out in the PAD.

This portion of the Boise River is one of the lesser known portions because access is limited. Much of the property surrounding the pool is owned by the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands and operated as a conservation area for birds and wildlife. 

All About Barber Pool

BREN is hosting a program about Barber Pool on April 5, at 11:30 at the Boise Library Hays Auditorium. Speakers will talk about the aquatic and terrestrial resources and management.

conservation area sign

Getting Around

The Greenbelt on the north side runs next to Warm Springs Blvd, and on the south side it’s up on the rim going through the subdivision.  It’s a hike to get to the river near the Hwy 21 bridge and the dam itself is an impediment. To safely bypass it you must exit the river and walk around the dam on the north side on a small path provided by the project – the only portage provided around any dam on the Boise River.   

March 21 Site Visit and Meeting

The FERC process for relicensing this project is kicking off with a meeting and site visit facilitated by Fulcrum LLC and Ada County on March 21. Members of the community can attend to learn about the project, ask questions and voice concerns.  The public can suggest studies the applicants should conduct to help determine appropriate mitigation.  Please consider becoming part of this process which will impact the Boise River for decades to come. 

Cottonwood Creek: “It Will Cost a Pretty Penny”

It must have been a dry July when the City of Boise founders platted the first streets in 1863. They established the city in the channel of Cottonwood Creek. Although Cottonwood Creek is a large tributary to the lower Boise River, it can dry up for months between rain storms and snow melt. The natural course of Cottonwood Creek was down what became 5th Street, across Main, Grove, and Front streets and then across Tom Davis’ orchard, (now Julia Davis Park), to the Boise River. It wasn’t long before city residents learned what it meant to live in the path of Cottonwood Creek. See part 1 of this series.

In 1881, after years of repeated flooding, the Boise City Council paid for construction of a flume to route Cottonwood Creek through Fort Boise to the Boise River. The route of the flume is shown below on the excerpt of an 1885 map.  A section at Fort Boise was built in stone and remains standing today. According to the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman, the “flume seems to answer all purposes.” But this wasn’t to be the case. 

A map of the Cottonwood Ck flume today

A River of Sand

Cottonwood Creek carried more than water from the foothills to the valley – tremendous quantities of sand and gravel also were swept downstream with summer thunderstorms and spring freshets. The sand rapidly filled the flume causing the water to overflow and take out the flume walls. Crews of men were tasked with regularly digging out the sand. Sand also filled irrigation ditches that had been built across the creek’s path causing much complaint from the owners.

Flume “Wiped Away”

On May 23, 1891 a massive flash flood poured out of Cottonwood Creek canyon. The Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman reported eye-witnesses saw a wall of water ten feet high emerge from the mouth of the canyon. The reporter dramatically described the scene: “As though nature was determined to avenge the affront of man in attempting to divert the natural course of one of her streams, the water in its mad rush could not be stopped by the frail wooden barrier that stood in its path, but wiped away at its first onslaught the flume and swept triumphantly along the old bed of the stream…Nearly every street in the northeast part of the city soon became the scene of a raging torrent of muddy water which tore along unchecked carrying great masses of broken limbs and other debris.”  He concluded, “Thousands of dollars have already been spent upon the Cottonwood Creek flume which was knocked ‘galley-west’ yesterday, and it will cost a pretty penny to rebuild the work on a proper scale.”

After more flooding in May 1892, the Boise City Council voted in September of that year to replace the primarily wooden flume with a stone aqueduct. The new flume was built with sandstone blocks from the foothills quarry. It was built in a V-shape and back-filled with sand at a cost of $9,000.

A section of the flume

The V-shape can be seen today in this section of the flume at Flume Ct.

“The Most Inexcusable Botch”

The first break in the new aqueduct occurred on March 29, 1893, just months after it was constructed. The sand back fill gave away about 100 yards below Main St. In a scathing editorial, the Idaho Daily Statesman wrote, “The flume was the most inexcusable botch that could be conceived of…Long sections of the flume were built on top of the ground, with nothing but a narrow bank of sand on either side to support the loose stone work.” The flume continued to give way requiring city crews to continuously patrol and repair it. The expensive problems with the flume didn’t win four-term mayor James Pinney any friends at the Idaho Daily Statesman.  The editors called Mayor Pinney foolish to have “built the Cottonwood aqueduct upon the sand.”

Mayor Supervises Flume Repair

A new mayor, Peter Sonna, was sworn in on July 15, 1893. According to the Idaho Daily Statesman, Mayor Sonna personally supervised repair work on the flume in October of that year.  A new rock wall was built, and concrete was poured into the gap between the flume and the wall. The outside of the flume may have been more secure, but the inside of the flume still filled with sand, and, as a consequence, Cottonwood Creek overtopped and broke the flume and flooded the new East Side Addition neighborhood in March 1894.  Mayor Sonna, relieved the water was flowing east and not west down Main St., delayed repair work until the high flows had ended. The flume was filled with three feet of sand, and yards throughout the neighborhoods were “washed full of sand,” according to the Idaho Daily Statesman.

Emergency repairs were made to the Cottonwood flume year after year after year. The city continued to develop and more houses were built in the East Side Addition and in the Central Addition. The population grew to 5,957 by 1900.  Then came March of 1904, when 2.46 inches of rain fell in 24 hours.

Part 2 of a blog series exploring the history of Cottonwood Creek. Made possible by the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Boise River Enhancement Network.

The Cottonwood Creek Daylighting Project

The Boise River Enhancement Network is a partner in a cooperative project to daylight Cottonwood Creek where it flows through Julia Davis Park and enters the Boise River. The creek currently runs through a stone flume under the park. A new natural creek channel will be constructed benefiting fish and wildlife, water quality and park visitors. The project leads are City of Boise and Trout Unlimited and partners include the Intermountain Bird Observatory, Ada County Highway District, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, and Land Trust of the Treasure Valley. The project is funded, in part, by the US Bureau of Reclamation, the City of Boise Open Space and Clean Water Fund and the Idaho Foundation for Fish and Wildlife.

A Typical Day—in Rhyme

By Tom McCabe

The Screech Owl sings in the middle of the night

The Juncos are feeding at first light.

Goldfinches come—American and Lesser

I grab the binos from the dresser.

A Robin whinnies and a House Finch sings

Mourning Doves come and flutter their wings.

A Nuthatch calls as I head out the door

Bundled for the cold, but happy to the core.

Yellow-rumped Warbler greets me daily

Cedar Waxwings whisper gaily.

A Downy Woodpecker calls to me

I know it’s him though I cannot see.

At State Street the “Church Pigeons” sit on a cross

While a group of Crows decide who’s boss.

Magpies and Collared Doves make their noise

While Ruby Crowned Kinglets look like toys.

Then on to the river and the many water birds

They gather in numbers that look like herds.

Mallards and Wigeons and Gadwalls, oh my,

Plus both kinds of Mergansers, then a Heron flies by.

A Bald Eagle sits in a tree by the river,

Every time I see him it gives me a shiver.

The pleasure at showing him to any and all

Who wouldn’t have noticed him though he sits so tall.

I hear the Geese honk and the Kingfisher rattle

While down in the brush the Wren seems to tattle.

A Red-tail sits and surveys a field

Though often to a Kestrel he must yield.

The Wood Ducks are plenty and pretty as can be

And Common Goldeneye are a sight to see.

A Northern Pintail is an occasional star

And sometimes a Merlin appears from afar.

These are my friends that I look for each day

Though often when they see me, they fly away.

But I still keep biking and looking around

Hoping to find one that no one has found.

A daily quest that keeps me going

Although I never go out whenever it’s snowing.

It makes me happy in these crazy times,

Watching birds and making rhymes.

Birders Gather Data for Cottonwood Creek Project

by Heidi Ware Carlisle, BSU Intermountain Bird Observatory

The east end of Julia Davis Park in downtown Boise will be transformed over the next year. What’s now a mono-culture of turf with scattered mature trees will make way for a vibrant small creek with aquatic and riparian vegetation taking root. Willows, Wood’s Rose, Golden Currant, Red-osier Dogwood and other native plants will grow on the banks of the new Cottonwood Creek and provide habitat for resident and migratory birds. Read about the Cottonwood Creek Daylighting Project.

Before and After

Without knowing what birds frequent the park now, it will be hard to measure the impacts of the project. To answer this question, BREN and project partner the BSU Intermountain Bird Observatory turned to local birders. In an example of citizen science at its best, local birders have been enlisted via eBird to document what they find when they go birding at the project site.

Eight dedicated birders have submitted eBird checklists for the Cottonwood Creek Daylighting Project so far. It’s exciting to see the power of citizen science at work, collecting pre-construction data on this project. All together, our volunteers have done the equivalent of eighteen in depth bird surveys by submitting complete eBird checklists of every bird they identified in the area. 

No Suprises Yet

So far, our census results are as expected. With no understory habitat or shrubs for riparian birds to use, the counts have been somewhat low. Even so, our volunteers have meticulously documented twenty individual species using the area. You can view the whole species list here: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L8014605

A few species are of particular interest:

Black-capped Chickadees have been detected in the area, using the river corridor. These are a riparian-habitat-loving bird that live along the Boise River. It is a good sign that Chickadees visit this project area already. Chickadees are know for exploring, often moving up and down the river in search of good habitat. As restoration begins and more habitat is created there is a good chance that chickadees will be one of the first species to colonize this new area. These little birds are major insectivores in the summer, so we know they will enjoy hunting for caterpillars and other food in the newly planted shrubs

Black-capped chickadee photo by Ken Miracle

Canada Geese are the only species that has been detected on all 18 surveys! But this isn’t surprising, since the future location of Cottonwood Creek is currently grass….which just happens to be their favorite food! Canada Geese are likely one of the only species that won’t love the Cottonwood Creek Project. They like wide open spaces (with no cover for potential predators to hide in) and green grass. As we add native shrubs and plants, we expect Canada Geese to visit this area less often…..hooray for less goose poop!

Canada goose and goslings photo by Ken Miracle

The Song Sparrow is a nondescript passerine bird and not much to look at, but it has a beautiful song! Song Sparrows are a species that nests in low dense vegetation near waterways. The new plantings we will do as part of the Cottonwood Creek project will provide fantastic nesting habitat for Song Sparrows within just a few years! It won’t take long to get native habitat established that Song Sparrows will love to use!

Song sparrow photo by Ken Miracle

Yellow-rumped Warblers are a migratory species that visits the Treasure Valley during spring and fall migration, as well as the winter. For migrating birds, it’s not just about nesting habitat. They need to have good habitat in both their summer and winter grounds! By restoring Cottonwood Creek, we would ensure that the Yellow-rumped Warblers that visit us have a place to call home while they are here.

Yellow-rumped warbler photo by Ken Miracle

Get Involved

Do you want to get out and see what the Cottonwood Creek Project is all about? Visit this link to learn more about how you can contribute. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Lz7Mc2-JFNS64_RrLVFVsEFZ62aOcB2OLI9mxIgqvdg/edit# We are excited to watch the data and bird sightings change over time as this project moves forward, and we hope you’ll join us!

Cottonwood Creek: “A Great Source of Trouble and Expense”

A deep freeze had clenched the Boise valley for weeks and snow lay thick on the foothills. In mid-January the temperature shot up to a balmy 50 degrees and rain began to fall.  Day after day the rain continued. On January 21, 1866, according to the January 23, 1866 edition of the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman, “Cottonwood Creek came out of its bed and appropriated the whole of Main street to the depth of six to twelve inches.”

Luckily for the approximately 800 people that lived in Boise in 1866, the floodwaters were kept out of most of the Main St. cellars. But Cottonwood Creek continued to be a “great source of trouble and expense.” Winter rain-on-snow storms, spring freshets, and heavy summer downpours caused the creek to rise precipitously and follow the path of least resistance down 6th Street to Main Street to the Boise River.

The Fort, the City and the Creek

In July 1863, the U.S. Army established Fort Boise on a slight rise overlooking Cottonwood Creek. It appears that the nation’s river experts, the Army Corps of Engineers, were busy elsewhere and did not participate in the decision on where to locate the Fort. The low-lying part of the Fort was built in the path of Cottonwood Creek.

Not long after this, in August 1863, Boise City founders laid out a townsite about a half-mile away. The initial plat was for ten blocks on each side of Main Street between 5th Street and 10th Street.  Fort Boise and Cottonwood Creek were thought to be a good distance away, but actually the channel of the creek cut diagonally through the townsite. During the periods when the creek flow was low or non-existent there were no problems, but when the waters rose, Cottonwood Creek made a beeline for Main Street. So began an expensive battle against the floodwaters and this battle continues to the present day.

Fort Boise is in the foreground of this historic drawing. The Cottonwood Creek channel can be seen.

8,000 Acres and 3,000 Feet

Cottonwood Creek is the largest tributary to the lower Boise River. It drains an 8,000‐acre watershed of the Boise Front, northeast of downtown Boise.  The headwaters of Cottonwood Creek are at 5,600 feet elevation, nearly 3,000 feet above Fort Boise. The watershed was heavily grazed in the late 1800’s and many mines were dug in the upper reaches.

“Quite an excitement prevailed”

By 1881, the population of Boise had more than doubled and the battle with Cottonwood Creek escalated.

As reported by the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman on February 3 and 5, 1881, incessant rains on the snow-covered foothills “caused such a rushing of the waters from the melted snow on the lower slopes of the mountains that all the small streams have been swollen into rivers.”  Cottonwood Creek “came sweeping down through the outskirts of the town into Sixth street, and thence into Main street at the Statesman office. In a few minutes these streets were flooded; many residences were surrounded by water, and quite an excitement prevailed.”

An army of towns folk jumped into action “to check the rushing of the flood down Main street.” The US Army at Fort Boise also sprang into action, but the newspaper reported the water “baffled them and found its way out of the proper channel.” The newspaper office was located on Sixth Street and the reporter had a front row seat to watch “the torrent again rushing down Sixth and Idaho streets, and threatening every moment to break the temporary embankment that had been thrown across Main street at the crossing of Main and Sixth.  The streets were soon filled with men rushing hither and thither with lanterns, and every possible effort was made to keep the water in its passage down Sixth street.”

“Considerable Damage Was Done”

The rain continued into the next day and despite a force of 50 men mustered by the Mayor to work on the dam at Fort Boise, Cottonwood Creek “suddenly rose some two or three feet.” The temporary dams at 6th and Main, “gave away and the water took its coveted way again down Main street. Many residences were surrounded by water to the great discomfort of the inmates, and considerable damage was done to property by the flooding of cellars, and compelling the removal of carpets and other furniture.”

Cottonwood Creek continued to flow through the eastern part of Boise well into March 1881. On July 30, 1881 the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman editor wrote, “This creek has been a great source of trouble and expense to Boise City.” The City Council was moved to action. On September 22, 1881 an advertisement appeared in the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman stating the City was accepting bids for the construction of a stone flume on Cottonwood Creek.

Part I of a blog series exploring the history of Cottonwood Creek. Made possible by the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Boise River Enhancement Network.

The Cottonwood Creek Daylighting Project

The Boise River Enhancement Network is a partner in a cooperative project to ‘daylight’ Cottonwood Creek where it flows through Julia Davis Park and enters the Boise River. The creek currently runs through a stone flume under the park. A new open creek channel will be constructed for the creek benefiting fish and wildlife, water quality and park visitors, and the flume will be ‘retired.’ The project leads are City of Boise and Trout Unlimited.  Partners include the Intermountain Bird Observatory, Ada County Highway District, Golden Eagle Audubon Society, and Land Trust of the Treasure Valley. The project is funded, in part, by the US Bureau of Reclamation, the City of Boise Open Space and Clean Water Fund, and the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation.