When Sara Arkle
, the Foothills and Open Spaces Senior Manager for the city of Boise, saw the results
of this year's Ridge to Rivers trail user survey
, she was encouraged.
"It's really satisfying to see almost 90 percent of respondents are not only happy with the Ridge to Rivers trail system
, but that people are making the connection between getting outside and being healthier, happier people," Arkle said. "Having so much uniformity with general satisfaction of the trail system is encouraging. It helps the crews get through the day-to-day challenges."
The survey is part of a 10-year master plan for the trail system, which stretches from Highway 21 to Highway 55. More than 2,700 people participated, answering questions on what they enjoy most about the trail system, how they use the trails, where they'd like to see more connection points, if they would support seasonal trail closures or separation of trail use and if more or fewer trails should be designated as dog off-leash.
The survey showed respondents value the foothills most for an "overall improvement to quality of life" and the "proximity of trail access from the city." More than 40 percent of respondents use the trails three-to-five times per week and the heaviest uses include mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and motorcycle riding. About 40 percent of trail users bring their dogs.
"This is the first time we've opened up a public discussion to see if there is any desire to move away from multi-use trails," Arkle said. "As we see usage increasing, we are asking the public what they want to see. [The response] was muddy water. There wasn't a lot of support for some of the strategies that other communities use."
Right now, all the trails in the foothills are multi-use, but the survey asked users if they would prefer to have trails for mountain biking and trails strictly for foot traffic. Almost 30 percent of respondents said they would like to see a separation, 40 percent said they wouldn't and 30 percent weren't sure.
When it came to dogs, 54 percent were happy with the number of off-leash trails—only about a quarter of the foothills trails are on-leash. Another 25 percent want to see more off-leash trails, while another 20 percent wanted more trails to be designated on-leash only.
"We were surprised to see the general support with current dog policies," Arkle said. "It's been a historically contentious issue, but if you look at the comments, there is a lot more to the issue than the simple yes/no answer."
The comments revealed a general frustration with out-of-control dogs and dog waste. Many commenters said all trails should be off-leash. One recommended to "shoot the folks who leave the poop on the trail in bags." Several others wanted more trash cans.
There will be two workshops for providing input on the results: one on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 5:30-9 p.m. at the Boise Depot and another on Thursday, Nov. 19, 5:30-9 p.m. at Riverglen Junior High School.
"This is dipping your toe in," Arkle said. "This lets us know where to focus."
Boise voters decide today whether to pass the Clean Water and Open Space levy
, which would allot $10 million for land acquisition and restoration projects in the foothills, open spaces and the Boise River if passed.