The Importance of River Access

Thursday, September 29 marks a notable event for Boise River recreationists. At 10:30 AM, Boise Parks and Recreation dedicates the new Willow Lane boat ramp. The new ramp is at the Willow Lane Athletic Complex, off State Street. The ramp is well designed to allow non-motorized, trailered boats- drift boats, dorys and large rafts- access to the river. This new access also provides access for canoes, kayaks and stand up paddleboards; wading fishers, dog stick throwers, lunch time gazers and sunset hand-holders. It’s an important emergency access for police, fire, rescue and flood control. There is designated parking for trailers, and restrooms are nearby. What a great amenity for our community!

This river access has been a long time coming.  In 1999, Boise convened a committee of citizens and agencies to develop the Boise River Resource Management Plan. The process was repeated, and the plan updated, in 2014. I had the honor of serving on both committees, and am proud of the work we did and the completed plan. There is evidence of the plan’s results all over the city. The surf wave at the River Recreation Park is the most visible. There are also many improvements to riparian habitat, emergency access, floater access at Ann Morrison Park, signage and portage trails.

One of the more challenging components of the plan has been providing access for trailered, non-motorized boats. The fishing community, particularly the Boise Valley Fly Fishers, have worked diligently towards this goal. They deserve kudos and high-fives. The Willow Lane boat ramp is a big step toward improved fishing access on the river.

For now, the take-out is at Garden City’s Westmoreland Park. This is an unimproved access, but boat trailer pros should have no problem getting a drift rig in and out of the river here. Hopefully Garden City and the river recreation community can work together to improve this access in the future.

There are many opportunities to better connect our communities to the river. Star is considering a ramp. Eagle is updating their master plan, and would do well to take on this issue. Eagle has over a dozen unimproved accesses in the North and South Channels of the Boise River, but no improved, sustainable access. The State is starting to move forward on updating Eagle Island State Park. It’s past time to implement the 2006 Eagle Island State Park Planning Committee’s recommendations and connect the park to the river. It’s hard to believe, but Eagle Island State Park, surrounded by the river, has little public access to the river.

One concern looms large for our rapidly urbanizing river. Boise has an ordinance prohibiting motorized recreation on the river. Ada County, Garden City, Eagle and Star do not. City and county codes should be updated to keep the Boise River non-motorized.  Nothing against motorboats- I have spent hundreds of days fishing and cruising in them. There’s a place for everything, and our urban river is better left quiet.

Chel is the author of the Boise River Water Trail a mile-by-mile guide to floating the Boise River from Lucky Peak Dam to the Snake River.

Chel in canoe

Soil Health Improves Water Quality

Thanks to the Canyon and Owyhee Conservation Districts for hosting a fun and informative tour on Sept. 22, 2016.  Meeting land owners who are implementing soil health and water quality BMPs, seeing what they doing and engaging in discussion is a fabulous way to learn.  Kudos to the staff of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission, and the Canyon and Owyhee Conservation Districts along with the landowners for caring for our land and water.

  people on tour   people   Josie and Jessica

The tour started at the NRCS office in Marsing on the banks of the Snake River and then we carpooled to Jason Miller and Brad McIntyre’s farms.  Participants included state and federal resource specialists, Conservation District Supervisors and staff, and other stakeholders.

GrahamGraham Freeman of Idaho DEQ checks out the cover crop on Jason Miller’s field. Jason planted this cover crop in June after harvesting winter wheat. It’s a mix of plants that cows love including turnips, daikon radishes, and teff. Jason will let the cows loose soon where they are expected to put on the pounds and leave natural fertilizer behind. The plants build organic matter in the soil and prevent dust and mud from leaving the field.

Robin    Tate

Robin Hadeler of the Canyon Soil Conservation District makes sure we aren’t zapped and Tate Walters, the Owyhee District Conservationist, NRCS, explains the cover crop.

group   Joan

Ada Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor Joan Cloonan, above right, meets the free range chickens.

BradBrad McIntyre, left, explains how he raised 300 chickens, built a portable coop and keeps the birds safe from predators, all so they can spread out cow manure and eat fly eggs. Brad’s cows graze on cover crops and he moves them regularly to give the plants a chance to regrow. The cows are healthier with fewer flies but more chickens would be better. Brad says he won’t buy chicks next time.

tractor and chickens

2016 BREN Coordinating Team Election

BREN Coordinating Team

BREN Coordinating Team Election, September 19th-25th

Please vote to elect members to the BREN Coordinating Team!

This year we have 6 seats up for reelection. The Coordinating Team is delegated to act on behalf of BREN and is responsible for providing direction to achieve BREN’s vision including setting goals, policies and procedures.

Important dates:
• Voting will occur September 19 through September 25.
• Election results will be announced on September 29.
• Coordinating Team members will take office October 1, 2016 and serve two (2) year terms.

Additional information about the responsibilities and privileges of General Members and the Coordinating Team is available in our Governance & Operations Procedures.

Voting Eligibility:
All BREN Members are eligible to vote. Note: If you were a member on our old website, you are still a member! If you would like to become a member, simply join using the link in the upper right-hand corner of the new BREN website,

Cast your vote starting September 19, click here!

2016 Coordinating Team Nominations

Tamsen Binggeli
I currently serve as the Chairperson of the Boise River Enhancement Network (BREN) Coordinating Team and have been involved with BREN for over 5 years. I am passionate about the Boise River and finding opportunities for enhancement through collaborative action. As the Chair, I’ve worked to guide planning efforts, facilitate meetings, perform outreach and work cooperatively with stakeholders. I also helped research and write the Boise River Enhancement Plan. I currently work as an Ecologist for Ecosystem Sciences in downtown Boise. I have a Master’s of Science in Environmental Science from the University of Idaho and have experience working in a variety of ecological systems, with a focus on riverine‐riparian and wetland ecology. I am dedicated to BREN’s mission and am looking forward to working with the BREN Coordinating Team in whatever capacity I can.

Whitney Byrd
I work for the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, BREN’s fiscal sponsor.  I have been working with BREN for almost 3 years now. I have attended all Coordinating Team meetings and served as note taker and participated as much as I can without voting, since I have not been officially on the coordinating team to date. I have been involved in all of our administrative processes, outreach, and fundraising.  I was involved with the organization of the first Boise River Bash in 2014.  Lately, I have been focusing on updating BREN web and email communications.  My husband and I enjoy living in Boise, and floating, fishing, playing with our dogs, recreating at the play wave, and canoeing in the Boise River.  I have 5 years of experience working in environmental activism and community organizing.  I have a BS in Biology from Virginia Tech and a MS in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana.

Tom “Chel” Chelstrom
BREN Coordinating Team member 2014-2016. Author of “Canoeing the Boise River” and “The Boise River Water Trail”. I support the big picture views of the Boise River Trails Plan and The Boise River Enhancement Plan. My experience representing recreation interests on the Boise River spans more than twenty years and includes long standing functional relationships with local, state and federal agencies and user groups. I support improving sustainable access to the river, portage trails around dams and diversions and walking/bicycling paths along the river. Working together, we can enhance recreation opportunities and fish and wildlife habitat while improving the overall health of the river and adjacent riparian areas.

Megan Dixon
As a member of the BREN Coordinating Team, I could bring to the task a broad familiarity with water issues in the Treasure Valley, particularly in Canyon County, and because my experience as a liaison between different individuals and departments at the College of Idaho, could serve to further support BREN’s outreach efforts. I have worked at the College of Idaho since 2008. I have taught courses in the Environmental Studies Program there since 2011. My work at the College of Idaho over the past two years has included the position of liaison between faculty, student affairs staff, and students. In this role, I have learned a lot about successful communication: different modes work better for different people, and redundancy is key! I am confident that I could help brainstorm ways for BREN to continue the good outreach work it has already undertaken. I have attended several BREN Coordinating Team meetings in order to learn about the important opportunities and issues facing the organization. I look forward to supporting BREN’s work in the future in whatever role I can, but I would be excited to work with the Coordinating Team to continue spreading the message about the need for a healthy Boise River.

Mike Homza, PE
I was initially involved with BREN from its inception, including: BREN’s very first organizing meetings (before BREN even had a name), meeting with Dr. Kustra inviting him to speak at BREN’s 2011 public event, assisting with the public event as well as other BREN events. I have been a “casual” participant in a number of Coordinating Team (CT) meetings, have assisted with fundraising and have taken on other tasks as requested by the CT. I am a river restoration/civil engineer well versed in many aspects of river and habitat planning, design, modeling, permitting and construction. I therefore believe I can contribute to the CT from the technical/practical/regulatory aspects as well. I am a resident of Boise and frequently float, stroll along and bike along the Boise River: I truly believe the Boise River is the lifeblood of the Valley and want to do what I can as a responsible citizen to protect and enhance the river, its water quality and associated habitat. I was also a founding member and President of the Idaho section on the American Water Resources Association (IDAWRA) and understand the roles and responsibilities associated with professional/non-profit organizations such as BREN. I believe my history with BREN, my professional expertise, commitment to the community and passion of rivers in general – and the Boise River in particular – can benefit BREN. I respectfully request that I be considered for a role on the BREN Coordinating Team.

Liz Paul
After many years as a non-profit river advocate, I’m now self-employed as a consultant. My business name is Community, LLC and I provide community organizing services to public, private and non-profit clients. I serve on the Board of the Lower Boise Watershed Council and on the Ada County Environmental Advisory Committee. I have an excellent understanding of the values of the Boise River, the threats the river faces and the opportunities for enhancement. I also know many of the stakeholders. I have experience in working with volunteers and working with diverse groups. I’ve invested much effort into creating BREN, and I would like to help the network figure out how best it can support the enhancement of the river.

To cast your vote now, click here!

City Plan Needs to Protect Habitat

Boise WetlandDear Mr. President and Parks and Recreation Commissioners,

I am writing on behalf of the Boise River Enhancement Network (BREN.) BREN is a local network of over 200 members whose primary goal is connecting people and projects in support of ecological enhancement of the Boise River. Our members represent diverse interests, including agriculture, economic development, municipal governments, irrigation water organizations, recreationists, environmental consultants, professional and citizen scientists, and the public at large. BREN thanks the City and the Commission for the opportunity to comment on the draft Downtown Parks and Public Spaces Plan (DPPS).

Our Coordinating Team has reviewed the draft Plan and offers the following comments:

We support the City of Boise’s proactive efforts to improve and develop downtown parks and public spaces. Making downtown more inviting and using parks and pathways as a cornerstone of livability is an important strategy. The DPPS plan should acknowledge the important values of the Boise River corridor. The Boise River, the Greenbelt corridor and pathways are collective assets that make Boise unique.

Our comments to the Plan are focused in two areas:

  1. Create formalized access points to the Boise River, particularly on the north bank (DPPS pages 9 and 10).
  2. The language of this recommendation is not clear as to whether it references formalized connections to the Greenbelt corridor or creating openings in the riparian area to the Boise River and/or its tributaries. The City of Boise’s Boise River Resource Management & Master Plan (2014) states that its primary objective is to manage recreational opportunities so that there are minimal impacts on natural resources (p. 18). The 2014 Plan notes that unrestricted access to the river creates impacts such as trampled vegetation, accelerated riverbank erosion, compacted soil, and damaged habitat (p. 21). Additional impacts of creating access points include habitat fragmentation and increased noise, disturbance and dislocation of wildlife by humans and dogs. The 2014 Plan calls for an inventory of current access points and the removal and rehabilitation of some trails (p. 27 and 56). This guidance was reinforced by the findings of the Boise River Riparian Corridor Stewardship Plan created by the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for the City of Boise in 2015. After an exhaustive inventory of vegetative cover types and vegetative condition, the Corps presented a number of recommendations to Boise City Parks and Recreation. To improve the ecological function of the vegetation on City of Boise lands along the Boise River, the Corps’ first recommendation is that “access to major riparian habitat should be limited, and the number of volunteer trails should be reduced.” The Corps also recommends that “unnecessary trails should be closed with signage, barriers, vegetation plantings and fencing.” Therefore, we recommend careful consideration of access points along the Boise River and/or its tributaries.
  1. Allow traditional kiosks along the Boise Greenbelt or other parks for small-scale commercial activity (DPPS page 10).
  2. The City of Boise’s Boise River Resource Management & Master Plan (2014) calls for the need to develop proactive policies to deal with the location and permission to allow concession kiosks near (but not on) the Greenbelt (p. 58); such policies have not yet been implemented. Without proper oversight, kiosks placed along the Greenbelt could lead to safety and congestion, litter, noise, and consequential negative impacts to Boise River habitat and wildlife.

The Corps Plan (2015) found that mature cottonwood habitat has decreased by 20% since 2001 and that its condition is deteriorating (p.25). While not as functional as it could be, the Boise River corridor currently provides habitat for a variety of wildlife species and provides numerous ecosystem services such as water supply and purification, flood attenuation, recreation and aesthetics to all who live here.

BREN members want to improve functionality of the Boise River corridor and continue to enjoy these benefits. We encourage the Commission to recommend changes to the DPPS report so it aligns with existing management plans.

Thank you again for accepting our comments.


Tamsen Binggeli

Chairperson, Boise River Enhancement Network


Literature cited

City of Boise. 2014. Boise River Resources Management & Master Plan. City of Boise Parks and Recreation, ID

U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. 2015. Boise River Riparian Corridor Stewardship Plan: Barber Park to Glenwood Bridge/West Boise Wastewater Treatment Facility. U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Walla Walla District, WA

Vegetation Fails the Grade

Thousands of people enjoy floating on the Boise River or a bike ride or walk along its shady shores.  But just how healthy is the Boise River and its shady shore? An examination of the plant communities along the river is one way to measure river health and sustainability.

We can look at a recent report prepared for the City of Boise by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to find out how healthy the vegetation is. The Boise River Riparian Corridor Stewardship Plan is an inventory of the vegetation cover and ecological condition of the vegetation in a 200-foot setback from the 6,500 cubic feet per second flow line on both sides of the river from Eckert Road to Glenwood Bridge.

The take away from the report is that the vast majority of the vegetation is not providing important ecological services and lacks resilience. The Corps report also includes a plan for management, restoration and sustaining this critical riparian habitat.

Bald Eagle photo: Ken MIracle

Bald Eagle in cottonwood tree. Photo by Ken Miracle.

The importance of healthy vegetation can’t been overstated. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “the typical, and historic, vegetative community adjacent to the Lower Boise River is black cottonwood forest.” According to a woman whose research has been invaluable to me, wildlife biologist and former Fish and Wildlife Service researcher Signe Sather-Blair, “These forested wetlands perform many functions and provide multiple benefits including: groundwater recharge, groundwater discharge, flood storage, reduced flood peaks, increased flow duration, shoreline anchoring, sediment trapping, nutrient retention and removal, food chain support, habitat for fish and wildlife and active and passive human recreation.”

The Corps identified eleven vegetative cover types found in the Boise River floodplain. Three ecological condition classes were used. In Class 1 the overstory and the understory is dominated by native species, historic vegetation composition exists and the plant community is ecologically stable with high resiliency. Soils and dominant ecological processes are fully functioning and plant communities are self sustaining. Class 2 areas have more non-native species and the plant community has only moderate resilience. In Class 3 communities there has been a major departure from historic vegetation composition and the plant community is ecologically unstable with low resilience.

One of the largest areas of Class 1 cover occurs in the reach just below Eckert Bridge.  Large areas of Class 1 mature and immature cottonwood are found in Barber Park; and in Marianne Williams Park and Harris Ranch on the north side of the river, large areas of Class 1 herbaceous wetland are found – much as a result of private and public wetland restoration projects. These areas are publicly accessible, and I recommend taking a walk to see what healthy habitat looks like. More Class 1 cottonwood forest is found downstream of East Park Center Bridge, especially in the new Golda Harris Nature Preserve on the north side.

Healthy vegetation. Photo: Liz Paul

Healthy vegetation across the river. Photo by Liz Paul

With the exception of a few narrow swaths of Class 1 riverside cottonwoods, all of the vegetation is Class 2 or 2- until the Veterans Memorial Parkway Bridge area. A healthy Class 1 area of mature and immature cottonwood trees is found just upstream from the bridge on the south side and mature riverside cottonwoods are found below the bridge on the north (by the Lander St wastewater treatment plant).

Class 1 mature cottonwood forest is found by Mystic Cove Park in Garden City and across the river near the Willow Lane Athletic Complex.  That’s it for Class 1.

Healthy vegetation near the Lander St wastewater treatment plant. Photo: Liz Paul

Healthy vegetation along the Boise River. Photo by Liz Paul.

The Corps recommends a number of maintenance and restoration actions to improve ecological function. That’ll be the topic of my next blog.

BREN Volunteers Enhance Riparian Habitat

On Wednesday August 3rd, 2016, the Boise River Enhancement Network (BREN) joined volunteers from the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) and the Idaho Shakespeare Festival to enhance riparian habitat along the Boise River in support a Boise High student’s senior project. Over a dozen volunteers converged at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival property to to protect native black cottonwood trees and remove non-native plants.

Habitat volunteers

Enhancement Team – morning crew

Volunteers split up into two crews and quickly got to work! The Cottonwood Protection Crew repaired and installed wire mesh around 11 cottonwood trees to protect them from damage from beaver and deer. Black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) trees provide and protect important habitat elements for birds, fish and wildlife. The historical extent of cottonwoods has decreased significantly within the Lower Boise Watershed due to development and changes to flows by the upstream dam complex, limiting reproduction by seed.Therefore it is important to protect current cottonwood populations and potential habitat.

Cottonwood beaver damage repair

The Vine Crew removed a significant amount of matrimony vine (Lycium barbarum), black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) and other non-native species along the bank of the river. While not listed as invasive, both matrimony vine and black locust can be highly prolific, and had taken over a large swath of the river bank. Removal of invasive species is listed as a priority in the Boise River Enhancement Plan as they push out native species and often do not provide ideal habitat nor contribute to the local food webs.

As part of her senior project, the Boise High student will also be writing a report and presenting the enhancement project to Boise High School staff. The Boise River Enhancement Network was pleased to volunteer and promote this enhancement project!

volunteers remove invasive plants