Collaboration at work to conserve Foothills property

Like most ideas, it started with a simple “what if?” As the for-sale sign went up on a 25-acre foothills parcel within the Barber Valley Neighborhood Association (BVNA), neighbors asked, “what if we could buy it instead of fight it?”

“It seems so obvious in retrospect,” said John Mooney, BVNA President. “This parcel is in the middle of the major wildlife corridor in our neighborhood has great potential for recreational connectivity, and it’s a critical piece of the viewshed across the entire valley. But as a neighborhood association, we weren’t sure how to proceed.”

Neighborhood associations usually spend most of their time negotiating with developers and the City of Boise to shape the way their neighborhoods grow, and BVNA is no exception. When several neighbors and the BVNA Board decided to explore the possibility of a land purchase, they knew they needed help.

Mooney, along with BVNA Board Member Brandy Wilson and neighbor Michael Popa, became the chairs of a campaign to work with the landowner to convey the property into conservation.

“We talked with all the environmental nonprofits we could think of who do this kind of work, as well as the City of Boise,” said Wilson. “All of them said the same thing: prove to us that you are serious, and we’ll help. We had a ton of moral support, advice, and endorsement letters from our closest partners, but it was clear we’d need to drive it.”

They proved it, with the help of one of their biggest neighbors: the Idaho Shakespeare Festival (ISF). The organization provided much-needed advice on fundraising, along with the ability to handle pledges and gifts under their status as a 501(c)(3) charitable corporation.

“Audiences revel in the wonder of watching world-class talent and artistry at this unique outdoor amphitheater with its stunning natural backdrop, and we thank our current and future neighbors for allowing us to bring theater into their midst,” said Eileen Langan Barber, ISF Board President. “We were delighted to help our neighbors in their quest to add more open space to the mix as the valley grows.”

With an experienced partner providing fundraising and fiscal guidance, neighbors quickly stepped up to the plate to provide the lion’s share of the funding. Through neighborhood meetings, house parties, and word-of-mouth, nearly 100 individuals and families provided three-quarters of the purchase price in ten weeks.

Once that threshold was reached, it was time for Mooney, Wilson, and Popa to once again visit with the conservation organizations. Not only would they need help crossing the finish line, they also needed a landowner who could manage the property as open space.

“We recognize the value of this parcel and its proximity to wildlife habitat and corridors to the river,” said Boise City Foothills Superintendent and Open Space Senior Manager Sara Arkle. City Council voted to apply $100,120 towards the total land purchase price of $390,000, completing the purchase and acquiring the parcel as a part of the sale agreement.

For their part, BVNA is thrilled that the City of Boise will be taking ownership. “Our vision for this parcel all along has been to protect and preserve it,” said Popa. “This is something I can take pride in for years to come, knowing that kids will have access to it in the future.”

“This is Boise at its best: neighbors working together with private property owners to care for Boise’s viewshed and environment,” said Boise City Council President Pro Tem, Lauren McLean. “The hard work of this group of neighbors for the collective good of the entire community is truly and inspiration to me, and I hope it inspires more of this kind of collaboration in the future.”

Collaboration by the Numbers

Evidence that this open space conservation project was a collaborative effort can be found at the top of the donor list. The donors who gave at the highest levels include individual neighbors, a local developer and homebuilder, a conservation organization, and the sellers, themselves.

Nearly three-quarters of the $390,000 purchase price was raised from private donations by 100 individuals and businesses. The Land Trust of the Treasure Valley provided $25,000 from a gift made possible by the estate of Bev Miller and the fund that she established to provide hiking opportunities in the foothills. Jim Hunter, owner of Boise Hunter Homes and builder of Harris Ranch North, gave $15,000 to assist the neighbors in their quest.

Many of the neighbors wanted to give more than their annual charitable household budget allowed, and the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation provided an approach that made this possible: a $55,000 bridge loan that made up the difference between what people could pay now and the sale price. Individual donors who made pledges for the next two years will pay those as installments while the property moves towards closing now with the bridge loan funding.

“This parcel is right next to the Boise Front Wildlife Management Area, a key wintering area for big game migrating here from as far away as the Sawtooths,” said Greg Gaddis, Fish and Wildlife Foundation board member. “The first time we visited the property with the neighbors, deer were browsing the land and using it. We are pleased to lend our efforts to providing additional buffer areas between urban development and the management area.”

The campaign committee set the fundraising goal at $425,000 to cover costs beyond the purchase price and contribute towards enhancements on the property, such as trailhead improvements, informational signage, and educational opportunities. The campaign has raised a total of almost $450,000 in money available today and pledges to be fulfilled in the next two years. It will focus next on repaying the IFWF bridge loan, organizing stakeholder meetings with the City, and collecting contributions from those who wish to climb aboard for the remainder of the trip.

Widespread Support for a Regional Resource

The 25-acre parcel, currently owned by Joe Ramaker and Missy Olson, was originally envisioned as a healing and retreat center.

“Once we realized that we were not going to be able to fulfill our original vision for the property, the question became, ‘what next?’” said Ramaker. “When the neighbors approached us, we were really intrigued by the potential for this land to continue to be a place for nature and healing.”

The parcel is immediately adjacent to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Management Area. During the planning process for the Barber Valley, developers set aside Maynard Gulch as a special resource, forgoing the opportunity to build on flat land to provide passage for deer and other wildlife from the foothills to the river.

The Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation prepared a biological assessment, and found that although the parcel is not currently in optimum condition, it is heavily used by wildlife and could support more if the vegetation were improved. Alan Sands, the consulting biologist for the Foundation, expressed his opinion that the property should be kept in natural vegetation and undeveloped.

The Land Trust of the Treasure Valley agreed and provided the campaign with early suggestions and guidance that was helpful to the effort. "We were pleased to have shared our experiences of working with neighbors to raise funds for the Harrison Hollow purchase with the Barber Valley campaign team.  We've been impressed with the hard work and success of their fundraising efforts. It shows there is strong support in the community for conserving this parcel for wildlife, recreation and scenic values," said Land Trust Executive Director Tim Breuer.

As wildlife move through Maynard Gulch and other wildlife corridors in the Barber Valley, they head for the lands along the Boise River known as the Barber Pool, gifted by Boise Cascade Corporation to the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands (IFPL), which also endorsed the effort. IFPL cited their 2002 Barber Pool Master Plan, which calls for collaboration to set aside as much open space as possible in the Barber Valley, recognizing its importance to all of Idaho.

“We became stewards of the Barber Pool because of the efforts of a group of forward-thinking women who saw the potential to preserve a bit of wildness in the middle of burgeoning urban development,” wrote IFPL’s President, Don Weilmunster. “We stand on their shoulders, and work to continue their vision of creating a sanctuary for Idaho wildlife just a handful of miles from the State Capitol. We are proud to stand with our neighbors who are striving to contribute to this rich ecological resource, and we encourage others to join them and help conserve this critical parcel for the public good.”

IFPL also has an education mission, and this is where the historical, cultural, and ecological opportunities at this parcel converge. Looking up at the parcel from the valley floor, it is part of the backdrop for the Shakespeare Festival stage, one of the City’s cultural and economic ambassadors. Looking out from the top of the parcel, the history of the Treasure Valley is evident.

“From here, you can see the Oregon Trail, the Kelton Ramp, the early irrigation history of the valley, Table Rock, and the Barber Dam and Barber Pool,” said Fred Boelter, environmental engineer and ISF Board member. “We don’t have another vantage point that works quite so well to explain the ecological and historical setting that we call home. It is as if you can read Boise’s history like a book across the landscape, from left to right.”

As more people flock to the Barber Valley and pressure increases on the Wildlife Management Area, Wilson is keen to have a place where people can experience a sense of stewardship for the area. “With a bit of elevation, people can see the connections between the wildlife corridors and development, as well as the critical nature of the habitat where the foothills meet the river,” she said. “This property could become a living lab for area schools. We really need something like this to connect people with their surroundings and understand the importance of the resources here.”

The Boise State Department of Geosciences presented BVNA with a proposal explaining the value of the property from an educational perspective. Pam Aishlin Cedillo, P.G., Jen Pierce, Ph.D., and Katie Gibble presented the proposal with the intention to “prompt stakeholder discussion on the education program potential that may be realized,” as well as to promote the use of public funds to set the parcel aside for “public and community education in perpetuity.”

Their proposal outlined over a dozen potential educational programs, ranging from elementary school outreach to secondary- and University-level research. Potential topics included wildlife, natural vegetation, soils, local geology, hydrology, climate, environmental monitoring and sensing systems engineering, as well as urban-wildland interface topics including fire monitoring systems and mitigation/hazards education. These proposed programs could build upon existing education outreach programs in which their team is engaged.

The partners in the process to convey this property to conservation have learned much and grown closer. According to Mooney, taking on a proactive campaign was something that brought BVNA Board members and neighbors closer together, uniting “old” and “new” neighbors in a common cause.

Neighbors are not the only ones who came away from this process inspired. David Steadman, the Realtor for the sellers, along with his partner, broker Jim Paulson of Progressive Realty, were amazed at the dedication of the neighbors to make this happen, and became donors to the effort.

“In the end, this story is not about me being a realtor. This is about all of the neighbors who took me along for this ride, to be involved in the most significant project of service in my professional career,” said Steadman.

The connections and collaborations are the key to this story. Much as the Barber Valley Trail at the bottom of the foothills, from Homestead Trailhead to Highland Valley Road, was accomplished by working as a community with each developer, this parcel was acquired through a multitude of parties working together from their different perspectives, each contributing generously of their time and talents.

Written by Brandy Wilson, Barber Valley Neighborhood Association

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