Sara Arkle 

Boise's new Foothills and Open Spaces senior manager: 'I've got a lot of miles to cover'

Sara Arkle sat cross-legged on the floor of her new office at the Jim Hall Foothills Learning Center, drinking a cup of tea on a recent late-spring afternoon. Arkle took the keys to the office May 18 May 11, after being named the city of Boise's new Foothills and Open Spaces senior manager. She left an eight-year stint at the Idaho Conservation League to take over the position in city government.

Throughout her conversation with Boise Weekly, Arkle referred to a map illustrating the city's reserves and 160 miles of trails that she's now responsible for.

"Holy crap," she said. "I've got a lot of miles to cover."

What inspired you to go for this job and leave ICL?

I was meeting with Doug [Holloway, Director of Boise Parks and Recreation Department] about something else in my capacity at ICL, and I asked him what they were going to do with this position. We started talking and he was like, "You should look at it and think about applying."

I thought, "You know, I've got a master's degree in parks and recreation." I loved the recreation classes because who wouldn't? You learn about how to administer programs that make people happy and healthy.

Then, of course, I looked at the breadth of the work, and I thought, "Holy cow, I could actually bring something to the table here." My master's research was on communicating fire risk at the urban-wildland interface. So it just seemed like everything was pointing me toward this position.

You might have one of the coolest jobs in Boise.

It's going to be challenging for sure, but I'm not going to argue with you.

What do you think will be challenging?

I mean, we own 4,000 acres. There are competing interests in those lands between recreation, and wildlife habitat and fire risk. The complexity of those issues is going to be challenging—to try to balance everything appropriately. Boise cares so much about these properties, so they're watching. If they think something is impacting a reserve, I get phone calls.

Tell me about your day-to-day right now.

Oh, it's everything and a firehose all at once. I'm getting phone calls about property issues already, like ad-hoc trail construction, or people who have purchased properties and realized the previous owners have encroached on city reserves.

We co-manage 10,000 6,000 acres on top of the 4,000 we own. We're at around 160 miles of trails, so there are all the issues with land management: invasive weeds, wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities. And then there's the foothills learning center, the management of the facility and the staff that work here.

Monday, the day that I started, I also found out that [U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally] Jewell was going to be here. So we had to figure out how to make that [press conference] happen.

And you have a son to raise as well?

I do. Lucas is 3 1/2. Here, I'll show you a picture. Any time you ask about people's kids, you have to see a picture.

You guys are probably always outside.

As much as we can be. We bring him to Hulls Gulch, just to look for coyote scat. That's what happens when you have a family full of biologists.

I've got a lot to learn about our reserve system, still. I mean, I've lived here eight years and I haven't covered every acre of land that we own or every mile of trail that we manage. I'm going to have to get a mountain bike, because I can't run or hike that far. I haven't owned a mountain bike in 10 years.

So is it a goal, then, to hit every mile of trail?

Yes. I have not actually said that out loud to myself yet, but yes.

I need to look at the trails from a different perspective. Rather than just enjoying them and recreating on them and teaching my son about natural resources, I need to look at them as a land manager.

Is working here like the show Parks and Recreation?

[Laughs] That's so funny. When I was first hired, a couple of people asked me that. I love that show. I guess in some ways, it kind of is. It's a really good team of people from all backgrounds.

Who do you most identify with on that show?

Personally, I'd have to say Tom Haverford, just because he makes me laugh. I'd like to be that funny. And I do like glitter. Treat yo' self.

And Leslie Knope. She works hard, and she cares a lot. I think I'd probably strive to match her professional abilities. She's dedicated.

Will working for the city be vastly different from working for a nonprofit?

Well, I started worked for a nonprofit because when I was working as a biological consultant, I realized that people were not very well connected to the decisions being made around them. I wanted to try to connect people to those decisions. Now I'm in an entity that's making those decisions, in a position that really has to connect people to those decisions.

When I was hired, the thing that really struck me was, I am about to be the steward of the places that make Boise the most livable city in the country. People move here because of these areas, and I'm supposed to take care of them.

It's not lost on me how big of a responsibility that is. I really hope I can do this community justice, do these reserves justice and build something that is lasting and positive and on top of the shoulders of the people who came before me.

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