I discovered the Fort Boise Military Reserve in 1977 during my occasional Boise visits. As the Idaho Conservation League’s first field organizer, I was in Boise every month or so. The Reserve was a virtually unknown retreat into the “outback” less than a mile from the office. During breaks from staff meetings, I had discovered hidden bowers perfect for meditation or a picnic on the grass.
I moved to Boise for good in 1978 to supervise ICL’s growing field-organizing efforts, living in several North End Boise rentals, always close to the foothills. For two years in the early-’80s, I lived half way up Bogus Basin Rd. at the Hawkins ranch, which the city recently purchased with foothills levy funds. While caretaking the 160-acre ranch, I acquired an energetic black Lab, and after we moved back into town, Boomer made sure we walked daily in the foothills, usually the Military Reserve. In fact, it was on one of his walks in 1986 that we discovered the home on the reserve boundary that we bought and have occupied for more than 30 years.
Shortly after we moved into our home on a half-acre adjacent to the reserve, Alice Dieter came calling. Alice and her husband Les, were among the first residents when Aldape Heights was subdivided in the 1950s. Les was among a team of Mountain Bell employees transferred to Boise from Denver in 1955. Alice, a writer for Sam Day’s Intermountain Observer, also was one of Idaho’s first female broadcast journalists. On the Boise Parks Board in the 1960s and ’70s, she helped shape Boise’s park system as it was transformed into a full-fledged city department under director Gordon Bowen. They successfully initiated then-controversial projects like the Greenbelt and thwarted many inappropriate ones. Alice was a force to be reckoned with.
When I welcomed Alice into our living room that afternoon in 1986, she got right down to business. “Gary,” she said, “you and I are going to start the Friends of Military Reserve.” She paused just long enough for me to understand that this was a direction, not a suggestion. “When the North End and the East End begin limiting access to foothills development, access through Military Reserve is not going to be an option,” she explained. Thus, the Friends of Military Reserve was born with Alice Dieter as its first chair. I succeeded her in 1989 and Pam Marcum succeeded me in the early ’90s, followed by Don and Marie Essig as co-chairs.
Alice had been among neighbors of the reserve who had become concerned in the 1970s when developers were seen in the reserve speculating on its development potential. With the help of neighbor Bill Dunlop, the US Dept. of Interior Solicitor for Idaho, the group pressured for a revised patent of the Military Reserve to the city that would revert the reserve back to the United States if threatened by development. The resulting 1981 “recreational and public purposes” patent includes an attached master “plan of development,” which is actually a plan to protect the reserve from development.
In addition to the concern that Mountain Cove Rd. not become a thoroughfare for foothills development, were other forms of encroachment into the reserve—off-road vehicles, decades of trash dumping, shooting and archery practice, paintball games, runoff and erosion from adjacent streets, dumping and other incursions from adjacent properties. Our first official action was to request a new survey of the reserve boundary. The survey revealed several encroachments, not the least of which was the lower portion of our own driveway.
Our neighbors across Santa Paula Ct, who built one of the first homes on the street, recalled the day in 1958 when Joe Aldape plowed his D-9 Caterpillar up the hill to carve out what became the driveway to the home we later bought, unaware of the encroachment. The reserve had only recently been patented to the city and initially was treated pretty much as a wasteland. The boundary’s location was easily overlooked at the time. Gov. Andrus’ dog’s kennel also had to be moved, along with several other encroachments. The largest incursion, 3,220 square feet adjoining the Eaton property along the reserve’s northern boundary, was finally settled with a 2001 boundary-adjustment/property-transfer creating trail and emergency access to the reserve at the end of Claremont Dr.
There were repeated attempts over the years to “upgrade” Mountain Cove Rd. in violation of the original master plan, which specified that “Parking lots and upgraded roads including the three main roads will have a gravel surface.” In 1988, likely responding to pressure from property owners, the city quietly got the BLM to sign off on a plan amendment allowing “the granting a right-of-way to the Ada County Highway District for the Mountain Cove Road and authorizes paving of the road.”
ACHD actually began preparing Mountain Cove Rd for paving. I personally confronted the crew manager and explained that the highway district did not have jurisdiction. They left. While the city had been allowed to grant right-of-way to the district, it had not yet done so. Friends of Military Reserve demanded a public hearing, which was held Oct. 30, 1990, where paving the road was overwhelmingly opposed. Yet, a year later, the Ada Planning Association proposed a Mountain Cove Parkway through the reserve. Each time the proposal to pave the road comes up, it has successfully been thwarted. My guess is that, like the proposal for a cross-foothills thoroughfare, it will continue to crop up from time to time unless a clear prohibition laid out in the reserve master plan puts that genie back in the bottle.
Relocation of the archery range out of the reserve was an issue pursued by FMR from its inception until it was finally accomplished a decade later. Initially, the archers had located a site on Hubbard Rd and were working with the county. That site eventually fell through, and the present site in the second retention basin seemed the ideal solution.
It took about a decade of persistent effort to end off-road-vehicle abuse in the reserve. Emplacement of rock barriers, improved enforcement and a few high-profile prosecutions of off-roaders eventually did the trick. Part of improved enforcement was educating reserve neighbors about how to to make non-emergency requests to officers familiar with the reserve and its restrictions.
Friends of Military Reserve joined with other citizen groups and federal, state, county, and city agencies to form the Boise Front Coalition, which led to establishment of the multi-agency Ridge-to-Rivers trail system. FoMR members participated in the campaign and negotiations to save Hulls Gulch from residential development, which became Boise’s next foothills reserve. We also helped draft the city’s first comprehensive Foothills Plan, another years-long collaborative effort of neighborhood, conservation, developer and property-owner interests.
With city leaders’ growing awareness of the value of its reserves as shown by support and implementation of the foothills/open-space levy, the need for the watchdog activities of Friends of Military Reserve seemed to diminish in the late ’90s. It is time to revisit that notion; we are awakening the watchdog lulled asleep by our past successes.
Boise’s first open-space reserve is once again threatened by development. City leaders have recently approved construction of a “world-class bike-skills park” in the Military Reserve. If it became the regional attraction some hope it to be, it would negatively affect neighborhood traffic, public safety and emergency services, as well as the natural, ecological values for which the Reserve was created.
Plans to design and build the bike-skills park in Military Reserve were developed without the open, transparent public involvement promised by the city’s Open Space Reserves plans. The city council approved the bike park development agreement without discussion as an item on its March 13, 2018, consent agenda. That action was in violation of the Boise-City-Code requirement that all park and open-space development agreements be reviewed by the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners whose recommendations are then considered by the City Council. [BCC §13-01-04(G)]
Blindsided by the Council’s action, a group of Military Reserve users and neighbors decided to resuscitate the Friends of Military Reserve. At Council President Lauren McLean’s invitation, she and President pro tempore Elaine Clegg met with 16 of us on May 14, 2018. Ms. McLean acknowledged that they’d screwed up. We asked if—in response to the widespread concerns about the lack of proper public process expressed in comments taken at the April 4th “open house”—a hearing could be held before the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Open-Space Advisory Committee to revisit the decision to build the bike-skills park in the Reserve.
Council President McLean said that it had been a unaminous vote of the council that couldn’t be reconsidered and our only opportunity for public input would be to appeal the staff-issued permits to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Thus, Friends of Military Reserve appealed the improperly authorized Floodplain and Hillside development permits. [CFH18-00051 and CFH18-00052]
We were joined in the appeal by Wildlands Defense and Great Old Broads for Wilderness. The East End Neighborhood Assn. filed a separate appeal. The basic complaint of all the appeals is the lack of the transparent, open public involvement promised in the city’s open-space reserve management plans.
There’s been no study or even discussion of the impact of the decision on traffic, parking, safety or emergency access in the nearby neighborhoods already challenged by the St. Luke’s expansion, construction of the Boise High athletic complex adjacent to Fort Boise, relocation of Hillside Elementary to the Lincoln School on Fort St. Nor has there been any analysis of the spin-off effects of a “world-class” cycling attraction on the natural ecology for which the city’s first open-space reserve was created.
The backstory that’s emerging: Joe Scott, grandson of Joe Albertson and head of the family foundation is an avid dirt and mountain biker. He, for instance, leaned on US Sen. Jim Risch to oppose the Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness because it would limit mountain-bike access. If you’ve seen what’s happened in the foothills above the Eagle bike park, which I believe also was funded by the Albertson Foundation, we fear that’s what’s in store for the Military Reserve. We have yet to determine how and by whom MR was chosen as the site. But we know why. They want access through the reserve to the Ridge-to-Rivers trail system. The original plan for the world-class bike park had two down-hill, bike-only thrill trails in the reserve—one down a swale on the face of Eagle Ridge that would have dumped out next to a geothermal well-house, another to the north of the upper Central Ridge Trail. After we raised a stink, those were eliminated; but two more are planned, one in the Freestone drainage above MR that will dump riders onto the Central Ridge Trail (#22); another, above Hulls Gulch. Relocation of the archery range back into the “natural” part of the reserve is on hold as they seek another site. FoMR spent about a decade to get the range moved out in the ’90s, when it was located at the end of the Toll Rd at the eastern corner of the reserve.
We’re still making public records requests to piece together how it all went down, but the city is being very chary about fulfilling them. Most of the documents sought have been denied as attorney-client privilege. The process was conducted behind closed doors. According to Lauren McLean and Elaine Clegg, foothills users surveyed at trailhead entrances to the reserves 1-2 years ago said having a bike skills park was a high priority. We asked to see the surveys and the analysis; first, they were promised, then we’re told to make a PRR to obtain them. The last survey we’ve found, done in 2015 shows nary a word about a bike-skills park. However, when the 2014 Hillside-to-Hollow master plan was developed through a facilitated public involvement process, a bike-skills park was sought and sited at Hillside Park, between the jr. high and the golf course. We’re told that MR was chosen after an exhaustive siting process examining alternatives that included Hillside.
According to Jimmy Hallyburton of the Boise Bicycle Project, he and Dylan Gradhandt of the Idaho Interscholastic Cycling League, and SWIMBA began consulting on the project a couple years ago. We have yet to discover if that was a parks and rec process, the foundation’s, or both; it was not an open, transparent one. Clearly, they want a world-class attraction where they can hold regional events comparable to the X-Games at Rhodes Park, which Albertsons also funded. They even had such an event already scheduled for MR this August!
My experience organizing around environmental issues has taught me that often our “successes” have been slowing down a bad process long enough for reality to catch up. My hope is that we can force the city to fix the process by having the proposal sent back to the parks and rec dept to be presented to the parks and rec commission where it will be given a public hearing. There alternatives and impacts on the neighborhood(s) and on the natural ecology for which the reserve was created can be addressed by the proper body. The result will likely be a much better plan after all of the “stakeholders” are properly informed and their concerns heard.
The days when the rich family on the hill called the shots for the whole community should have ended centuries ago. Democracy is a messy process. It works best when community consensus is built through systematic development of informed consent.