Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gotta love that snow-plow service on the Greenbelt; great for walking, running, biking

Thanks to the plowing crew at Boise Parks & Recreation, the Greenbelt is mostly clear of snow ...
It's certainly cleaner and drier than our driveway ... 
And many side streets in Boise 
Boise State pathway still has some snow ... 
Wait until the afternoon to head out for your Greenbelt adventure, let the ice melt ... 
Boise State walk bridge 
Hi all,

Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I've been feeling a little cabin-fever creeping up on me lately ... especially during the multi-week deep-freeze in January. It didn't feel right to do anything but cocoon around the fireplace, try to stay warm and try not to fall on your butt or head when walking across slippery black ice in your own fricking driveway. Mother Nature hit us hard these past weeks!

So I found myself pedaling with glee on the Boise River Greenbelt today, enjoying an outdoor cycling experience in 45 degree weather, with partial sunshine. It felt almost like 60, considering what we've been used to with temps in the single digits and teens.

Here's the audio from Steve's appearance on 94.9 FM the River this morning, discussing winter riding on the Greenbelt ...

The pathway was wet in many places, even standing water in places, but practically no snow anywhere on the pavement. Frankly, the pathway is more clear of ice and snow than lots of side streets in Boise! It's certainly more clean than my own driveway :) Thanks to Boise Parks & Recreation for taking such great care of our Greenbelt and thanks to Boise taxpayers for footing the bill!

In the next 10 days, the forecast calls for temps near or above 40 in the afternoon in the heat of the day. That means more melting and totally decent weather conditions for biking, walking, running, walking the dog, taking the babies for a stroller walk, whatever! Well ... I wouldn't go out on roller blades quite yet ... too many puddles and standing water. Also, wait for the day to warm up. Don't go out early in the morning unless you have to commute ... it'll be slick and icy.

For future reference, here are the city's guidelines on Greenbelt winter upkeep:

1. Boise Parks & Recreation plows 20 miles of the Greenbelt path throughout the winter except the natural area between Barber Park and ParkCenter. 
2. Plowing begins when approximately 1” or more of snow falls. 
3. Snow-plow service runs seven days a week, except for Christmas and New Year’s day. 
4. De-icer is used on bridge approaches, bridges, and certain sections of the path that have a steep incline (Orchard/Garden Street) and areas that are habitually in the shade. Staff de-ice using a mag chloride product that is environmentally friendly.

I'd recommend bundling up and heading out to whichever section of the Greenbelt that you like to hike/run/ride. For a longer workout, going from Municipal Park out to Lucky Peak is a great bike ride. It's 18 miles roundtrip to Discovery Park at the base of Lucky Peak Dam. 

Another option is to do a loop ride in the inner city section of the Greenbelt. Today, I rode from Veterans Park to Warm Springs Golf Course and the ParkCenter pedestrian bridge, crossed over to the south side, and rode back via ParkCenter, Boise State, Ann Morrison Park, across the walk bridge, and back. Distance is about 12 miles.  Travel time is 45 minutes to an hour at an active recreational pace. 

My guidebooks, Mountain Biking in Boise and the Boise Trail Guide detail numerous Greenbelt hiking, running and biking sections that you can enjoy. See more details at

I wasn't able to confirm whether Garden City has been plowing its sections of the Greenbelt, so I can't confirm whether the pathway is open and clear of snow between Lake Harbor and Glenwood, or from Glenwood to the end of the pathway several miles to the west. 

Dress in layers for your Greenbelt outing. You'll need to wear long underwear with a pair of light rain pants or sweat pants. My riding shoes got soaking wet today, so you might want to wear warm socks! A couple layers on top and a wind shell will take care of your upper body. Carry a headband or a skull cap to keep your ears warm. It may or may not be needed, depending on when you go. 

An outdoor bike ride sure beats riding the trainer or spin bike indoors, staring at walls! But it will be wet out there while the snow melts ... fenders are a great feature!  
Have fun!
- SS

Thursday, January 24, 2013

McCall Winter Carnival, Sun Valley Nordic Festival or escape to Bogus Basin xc ski trails

Snow sculptures in McCall are always interesting and entertaining ... 
Mardi Gras parade 
Thomas the tank engine 
The Activity Barn is a great lift-served snow-tubing hill, great for kids and adults  
Hi all,

There are lots of things going on this weekend, and with the inversion still dominating the yucky, freezing-cold weather scene in the Boise Valley, I wholeheartedly recommend that you get out of town, or at least above the inversion to enjoy some cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, downhill skiing, sledding or boot-hiking in the mountains.

On Friday, the McCall Winter Carnival comes to life for 10 days, and the options for fun expands multifold with snowshoe golf, ice skating, checking out the giant snow sculptures, the Marti Gras parade Saturday night, fireworks, beer garden, monster dog pull, beard and hairy legs contest, snow tubing at the Activity Barn, a snow bike race and so much more. See the event schedule for details.

Did you see the article about the Salmon River Brewery in the Statesman this week? The brewery will be a participant in the beer garden in downtown McCall during the Winter Carnival, and it also will be hosting live music on Friday and Saturday nights of both Winter Carnival weekends. Check the Salmon River Brewery Facebook page for music details. I love their beer!

If you don't have a place to stay in McCall, yet, try the McCall Chamber, or for lodging options. Things fill up pretty fast for winter carnival.

Another good bet this weekend is the Sun Valley Nordic Festival, which runs from Saturday through Feb. 3. Cross-country skiing enthusiasts can't go wrong visiting the festival and partaking in xc skiing while you're there. There are more than 200 km of ski trails in the valley to enjoy, and they are all groomed daily to the highest-quality. The festival culminates with the ever-popular Boulder Mountain Tour, a 32km race from Galena Lodge to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area office north of Ketchum, on Saturday, Feb. 2. There is a 15km course for those who don't want to go so far.
A participant in last year's Skin It to Win It Race 
On Sunday, Jan. 27, there will be a race called "Skin It to Win It Ski & Snowboard Race" on Dollar Mountain. You skin up Dollar Mountain 560 feet on the Forbidden Fruit slope, de-skin, and then ski or snowboard downhill on Otto's Run, for one lap. Then, you skin up and do it again. The people who log the most laps over a three-hour period win the race. Here's where you meet the super-human skiers and riders and see what they're capable of ... wow.

There are a whole week's worth of events during the Nordic festival, including wine-tastings, more races, and more. See the festival web site for the full calendar of events.

Another cool Nordic activity sponsored by the Blaine County Recreation District is a 200km challenge this winter season. Keep track of your xc ski outings in the Wood River Valley this winter, log 200km on your favorite trails, and you'll be entered for prize drawings at the end of the season. Here's a pamphlet with the details.
Bogus Basin Nordic track ... great for all abilities.
If you're stuck in Boise, head up to Bogus Basin and try out their cross-country ski trails, go tubing on the lift-served tubing hill (be sure to call in advance for reservations), or just go exploring on the Deer Point service road with your dog. The service road is used by snowshoers, xc skiers and snowmobiles.  Park in the vehicle pullout about 12.5 miles up Bogus Basin Road.
Blue sky, sunshine and above the inversion ... life is good. 
Bogus Basin Nordic has 37 K's of ski trail. I was up there last weekend, and there were all kinds of people enjoying the trails. The easy trails close to the Nordic Lodge are great for any abilities. Farther out, the trails are more steep and challenging. I certainly got my workout.

Have fun! I hope the inversion is gone by next week, and we can enjoy activities in the valley as well.
- SS

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cold weather is creating frozen ponds, look around for solid ice for ice skating, broomball

A portion of the pond at Eagle Island State Park has been shoveled.
My son Quinn normally is skating indoors on ice that costs $165/hour.  
Thanks to whoever shoveled the rink! 
First time I've been on skates this year 
Hi all,

I'm a Minnesota kid, so when it gets cold, I always wonder when the ponds in Boise are going to freeze. From the age of 4, I used to ice skate and play hockey all winter in Minnetonka, Minn. I had a small pond, and three outdoor hockey rinks located 5 minutes from my house. It gets in your blood.

In Boise, we've had several weeks of cold weather now, with single digits at night, so I figured that surely, there must be a few ponds in Boise that are ready for ice skating, broomball or whatever.

I put out a Facebook inquiry on the topic earlier this week, got some additional ideas, and went exploring for a pond with solid ice. In years past, during cold snaps, I've skated on Veterans Park Pond, Ann Morrison duck ponds and the Quarry pond in ParkCenter. Right now, Veterans pond appears to be ready for skating, broomball or whatever in the shallow end (northwest corner of the pond). We walked around on it close to shore today, and it seemed solid. The ice must be about 5-6 inches thick. But no one has shoveled off an area for ice play ... maybe I'll work on that.
I agree with this sign by the Ann Morrison duck ponds ... there's open water in places. Looks sketchy. 
(Full disclosure: Boise Parks & Recreation is not encouraging people to play on the ice at any of their park properties, according to parks officials. Some dogs have fallen through the ice at Redwood Park in West Boise, so please steer clear of that one.)

I heard that people were skating on the pond at Eagle Island State Park, so my son, Quinn, and I went out there yesterday afternoon, found a shoveled rink cleared of snow, skated around a bit and shot the puck back and forth. This is the best piece of pond ice that I've found so far. But the ice surface, unfortunately, was quite rough ... too rough for a real game of hockey with several other guys. It'd be fine for broomball, though. Wonder if the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation could flood it for us?
Veterans Park pond ... I walked across this area in the shallow end and it seemed solid.
We noticed plenty of other skate-blade marks on the ice, so obviously some other folks have been enjoying that piece of ice.

Please comment below if you know of some other ponds in the Boise area or Treasure Valley that are solid enough for skating.

I cruised by the Quarry pond in ParkCenter, and that one is not fully frozen on one side. ParkCenter pond has open water and current underneath it. So no go. Ditto with Julia Davis pond. The Ann Morrison Ponds were snowy, with open water and very rough -- didn't look suitable for skating. So I don't know what else to recommend at this point. Let me know if you've found some good ice.

It's only supposed to stay this cold for a few more days until next week, so seize the moment if you like to skate or play on ice.

If you'd like to go ice skating in an indoor environment, Idaho Ice World has public skating sessions 7 days a week at various times. Rental skates are available.


Outdoor writer Roger Phillips of the Idaho Statesman did a nice write up in today's paper on tubing and sleigh rides in Garden Valley. Here's the link to that story ... Garden Valley needs a little love from the Treasure Valley to stay in business. Try it sometime.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival is coming up Feb. 4-6 at the Egyptian Theater. Tickets are $17 for adults, $13 for seniors and $45 for a three-day pass. Day-of-event tickets are $20.

Have fun!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cold weather often draws more bald eagles to the Boise River; now is good time to see them

A bald eagle roosts on a cottonwood tree along the Boise River. Courtesy Bob Young
Courtesy Boise State University
Hi all,

I've often found that when the weather gets cold in Boise, more bald eagles than normal tend to roost and hunt along the Boise River corridor between Barber Park and ParkCenter. Bald eagle experts also have told me that they've counted more birds in the river corridor during cold weather periods, when temperatures are below freezing.

So even though the weather will be chilly in Boise in the coming week, it's still going to be sunny, and fortunately for you, there are several excellent trails along the Boise River, where you can explore, hike or run, and look for eagles. Be sure to bring your camera and bino's, dress warm, and wear your snow boots!
The bald eagle walk from Barber Park also goes through the Bethine Church  River Trail. (Click image to enlarge) 
I like to start the eagle walk at Barber Park and hike or run about three miles downriver to the junction with the ParkCenter paved greenbelt pathway. You can leave a shuttle vehicle in ParkCenter, as needed. To get to Barber Park, take Boise Avenue east to Eckert Road, turn left, and make an immediate left into Barber Park. Proceed into the park and park over by the new Barber Park event center. Head over to the river, pick up the pathway heading west, downriver. This trail is open only to walking and running; no bikes allowed.

Longer hiking and running loops along the Boise River are detailed in my Boise Trail Guide: 75 Hiking & Running Routes Close to Home.
The Municipal Park to Barber Park loop is one longer option ... it's 9.5 miles roundtrip. (Click image to enlarge)
About 3/4 of a mile downriver from Barber Park, it's often possible to see bald eagles on a tall cottonwood whose branches extend out into the glassy pool above an irrigation diversion and rapids.  But they could be perching just about anywhere. If you see eagles, sure, take a moment to take a picture or look at them through the bino's, but don't dwell on it ... the birds will get nervous if you just stop and stare for long. Keep moving. Remember, they're trying to conserve energy and dive for an occasional fish.

Do you wonder how the bald eagles continue to roost and hunt along the urban corridor of the Boise River even though they're in a small city? Here's a link to a study on the topic. I was the natural resources reporter for the Statesman back in the late '80s, and I remember walking the river with study author Robin Spahr, as well as her supervisor, the esteemed wildlife biologist and eagle authority Karen Steenhof, to look for eagles and write about the issues related to the eagles hanging out in an urban zone.

Seeing bald eagles is a thrill for me. My teen-age kids don't really get it. I think they're a stunningly beautiful bird. It's always a special moment to see a bald eagle swoop down to the river, snag a fish and fly up to a tree limb and enjoy the feast. That's nature in action.

Plus, we mustn't forget a time when bald eagles were becoming extinct in the 1960s and 1970s because of the widespread use of the pesticide DDT in the U.S. I remember reporting on the gradual recovery of bald eagles in the 1980s and the 1990s, to the point where the bird was delisted. We've even been able to witness the recovery first-hand along the Boise River in Boise. It's definitely a wonderful success story in our nation's history, and in the history of the Endangered Species Act. I didn't remember that our own former Idaho Gov. and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne made the decision to delist the bird.

"Today I am proud to announce: the eagle has returned," said Secretary Kempthorne. "In 1963, the lower 48 states were home to barely 400 nesting pairs of bald eagles. Today, after decades of conservation effort, they are home to some 10,000 nesting pairs, a 25-fold increase in the last 40 years. Based on its dramatic recovery, it is my honor to announce the Department of the Interior's decision to remove the American Bald Eagle from the Endangered Species List."

I hope you enjoy your walk, and please leave a comment on the blog as to how many eagles you see on your walk or run.

Have fun!
-- SS

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Free cross-country ski day on Saturday is a great opportunity to learn how to xc ski or snowshoe

If she can do it, you can too! Snowshoeing is easy! Poles help with balance. 
Cross-country skiing is fun!
Wendy skis the dog loop at Ponderosa State Park 
Cross-country skiers get some pointers
(Note: The IDPR web site is down Thursday, Jan. 3 all day. It is supposed to be back online by 7 p.m. tonight. Sorry about that.) 

Hi all,

Happy New Year! This week's tip focuses on free cross-country ski/snowshoe day Saturday, Jan. 5, at participating Nordic facilities in Idaho.

The whole purpose of the annual event is to provide an incentive for newbies to get into cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Let me give you some reasons to go:

  • It's free! In some cases, equipment rentals and lessons are free! Can't beat that! See below.
  • Get out of the freezing temperatures and inversion in the Boise Valley, enjoy some sunshine and get some exercise cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. 
  • The basic cross-country skiing technique is pretty easy to learn. Snowshoeing is even easier. Skate skiing is harder to learn but a lot like ice skating if you already know how to do that. Anyone who can walk can learn to snowshoe. Just strap on the skis or snowshoes and go! 
  • Snowshoeing is very similar to going for a hike. If you like to hike, you should get into snowshoeing, so you can go hiking in the snow in the winter.
  • Southwest Idaho has a number of great places to go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Participating Nordic facilities on Saturday are the Idaho City Park n' Ski Areas, north of Idaho City, Cabarton Trails near Cascade, and Ponderosa State Park.  
"We're looking forward to it," says Theresa Perry, Lake Cascade State Park manager. "Learn to Ski Day is always a festive event and lots of fun."

Lake Cascade State Park is teaming up with the South Valley County Recreation District, Trinity Pines and Tamarack Resort to offer free equipment and cross-country skiing and snowshoe lessons on the Cabarton Trails at the Hasbrouck Ranch. The fun begins at 11 a.m. and runs to 2:30 p.m. To get there, take Idaho 55 about 75 miles north of Boise, past Round Valley, and turn left on Cabarton Road across from the Clear Creek Lodge. There is a beginner loop for folks who are just starting out, plus 5 miles of groomed trails, and other self-guided trails (no grooming), that you can check out.

In McCall, Ponderosa State Park also is providing free equipment and lessons from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m . Gravity Sports and Hometown Sports are providing cross-country ski equipment and lessons, and the McCall Outdoor Science School is providing guided snowshoe tours and lessons. So if you're in the 'hood, be sure to take advantage of this great opportunity to learn. All parking fees and trail fees will be waived for the day.

On Saturday, the trail fees are waived in the Idaho City Park n' Ski Areas, north of Idaho City, meaning you can explore 56 miles of trails in the Park n' Ski system; 26 of them are groomed for skiing. The easiest place to start is Gold Fork, located on the left side of Idaho State Highway 21 about 1.5 hours from Boise.

If you go to the Park n' Ski areas, be sure to rent some cross-country or snowshoe equipment at Idaho Mountain Touring or Boise REI.

Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation officials will be at the Gold Fork parking lot ready to answer any questions and provide information about ski and snowshoe trails in the vicinity. Here's a map of the trail system and yurts. IDPR folks also will be manning the Rocky Ridge and Skyline yurts and serving free hot chocolate for people who stop by. Free hot chocolate also will be available at the Banner Ridge trailhead.

The Rocky Ridge yurt is located 1.4 miles from the Whoop-Um-Up parking lot. There is a marked snowshoe trail leading to the yurt. Skyline yurt is 2 miles from the Gold Fork parking lot. The trail to Skyline is suitable for skate skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. It's rated "more difficult" because it's a continuous uphill grade Skyline. Dogs are allowed on the trails in the Gold Fork area but they're not allowed on the Banner Ridge trails.

Have fun!
- SS

Steve shares his weekly outdoor tips with Ken and Tim on 94.9 FM The River each Friday morning in Boise at approximately 7:10 a.m. If you miss the program, you can hear the segments on River Detailed descriptions and color maps of Steve's hikes, bike rides and paddling trips are available for 99 cents each at, plus the full ebooks and hard-copy guidebooks.