NOTE: 52 Tales of Local Travel is a weekly post about walking the local greenbelt river trail. The greenbelt is a local treasure with unlimited opportunities for exploration and enjoyment. A visit is always full of wonder and discovery, two hallmarks of a successful travel experience. Doing novel things near where I live is one of my creative travel strategies. This post describes my experiences in my own area. If you live somewhere else, what local treasure/s can you explore and enjoy with your children to enrich your life and help satisfy your travel craving? There are amazing things in your backyard too.
January 27 & 30: Still snowy, icy and cold. I guess that’s not surprising since we live in Boise, but my memories of our bone-chilling winters must get erased as we’re going through the sweltering summers each year. It’s the end of January now and we’re getting more of the same winter weather. For this week’s post we took the same walk only two days apart, but in two different weeks (a Friday and a Monday), so each counts as a weekly walk. The first walk was distracted and I forgot to track it on my GPS, so we decided to do the same again, and had to squeeze it in on a Monday before we left for Disneyland the next day. This posting is a compilation of those walks.
Bridge to Bridge, Shoreline Drive to Ann Morrison Pioneer Footbridge and Friendship Bridge. 2.3 miles
Front pack, stroller, bike
Getting there by car: From State Street head south on Americana Boulevard. A bit past the freeway overpass you will turn left onto Shoreline Drive. Near the end of the road on the left is a paved access trail to the greenbelt. Park along the road near the trail where parking is permitted. This is the most direct greenbelt parking from the North End, and you won’t need to navigate the twists and turns of the Julia Davis or Ann Morrison parking.
Trail directions: Head up the trail spur to the greenbelt. There are a bike tunnel and a pedestrian detour, both heading to the left. Take either one. A short ways along you will reach the Ann Morrison footbridge. Cross it and then turn left and continue east along the path. You will go through Ann Morrison Park and Boise State University. At the Friendship Bridge, a short ways past the Morrison Center concert venue, turn left and cross. Turn left again on the north side of the trail. Pass through Julia Davis Park and Ann Morrison Park again before you reach your car. This walk will take you through and past some of the best features in the heart of downtown Boise.
Our 2 walks: I have always loved this bridge to bridge walk. In any season there are a ton of things to do and see with and without children along the route. Ann Morrison park, rafters, children’s parks and fountains, Julia Davis Park, giraffes, festivals, Anne Frank Memorial, the main library, now Payette Brewery, and of course, the birds and river. In winter some of the activities are on hiatus, but the birds are at their peak.
My mom came with us on this walk and turned us onto parking on Shoreline Boulevard to access the trail, rather than in one of the parks where I usually go. There is plenty of parking there too, but sometimes it’s a bit of a maze to get into and out of them. Keeping it simple, we followed my mom’s suggestion, and off we went, me, my mom and Jenas. The first thing I noticed is that this trail is loud in January! Ducks were quacking. Geese were honking. Gulls were screeching. Birds were splashing in for landings left and right. And the crows! What a ruckus. Enough to wake a baby up if your little one has gotten to sleep on the trail. I think the word ‘cacophony’ was invented to describe the noisy antics of birds.
Just as you get to the greenbelt from your car there is a tunnel for bikers and an alternate walking route. We did both. FYI, if you’re birding, the birds in the river at this walking trail pass were amazing. Wood ducks were sleeping with their beaks tucked into their wings right there. Mallards and Canada geese were busy everywhere. Common mergansers were doing their thing, and I even saw wigeons, those green &white-headed beauties. There were gulls standing still enough that I was able to get some great photos for identifying them.
There are at least 28 species of gulls in the U.S and they all look alike to me. Bird experts don’t really call them ‘sea’gulls because they can live anywhere, even landlocked Boise. These ones turn out to be ring-billed gulls, one of only two in the Boise bird guide, thank goodness. Even so, they both have a white breast, gray wings, and a blackish spot on their beaks (for babies to peck to be fed). Jeesh. Gulls are very versatile; part of their success is that they have adapted well to human disruption and settlements. Traditionally they have been more common around oceans and lakes, but due to their intelligence and ability to eat all kinds of different foods, some have become quite successful living around garbage dumps, in parking lots, and in other inhabited areas. Another very interesting factor to their versatility– they can drink both freshwater and saltwater, rare in the animal world. Awesome. We may view them as vermin sometimes because of their penchant for scavenging, but gulls are actually quite special. Mormons would agree, as they are credited with protecting the Mormon people from a locust scourge in their promised land of Utah. I was excited to identify the ring-billed gull and add it to my list of 2017 sightings.
We walked over the Ann Morrison Pioneer Bridge and along the river, past apartments and under bridges. Once past the Capitol Boulevard bridge we were in BSU territory. My mom happens to be a recently retired professor in the BSU Education Department, so we made a friendly little stop-in to see some of her colleagues. It was a warming visit. The education building is a 7-story brick building set slightly back from the greenbelt. It is the second building past the Morrison Center. If you have children or just need to warm up in these cool winter months, you can ride the elevator up to the 5th floor, or higher, and get a bird’s eye view of the State Capital and other parts downtown.
There is also a BSU shuttle stop near the building where you can board the free campus shuttle and take a peek at Boise State University with your little ones. There are really a ton of great adventures possible at Boise State. Did you know they have a bowling alley and pool tables at the Student Rec center? Or that there are children’s books at the Albertsons Library? Did you know they are working on open an observatory on the top of the Education Building for star gazing? Or that the Morrison Center have periodic and relatively affordable programming for children? If you are interest in cultural events or children’s activities, Boise State offerings are definitely worth checking out. https://www.boisestate.edu/
Out in the cold again, we crossed over the Friendship bridge and headed back the way we came on the other side of the river.
The giraffes were staying warm inside their zoo enclosures, but when the weather is nicer, it’s always a joy to see them with their long necks and cute nubbin horns, above the fence. We briefly checked out the Anne Frank memorial. The main library is right there too, another great stopping point for families. This walk just contains too many options to note them all!
On this walk we saw a sweet song bird sucking a droplet of water from an icicle. Cool behavior. And geese foot prints in the snow, reminding me of the character, Duck, from the Doreen Cronin books, including Click Clack Moo! What mischief was that duck getting into in Boise? We saw birds skimming the surface of the water with their beaks, sifting out food material. I have always thought of ducks as simply dabblers or divers. Dabblers put their tails in the air with half their bodies submerged to eat, while divers go all in as they hunt for food. Turns out that skimming off plant and animal matter by running their beaks along the surface is another strategy that dabbling ducks use.
While this is one of my favorite walks most times of year, it was not my favorite in the winter. There are several walks I enjoy more, because they accentuate the beauty of winter. I found myself chilled and less inspired on these late January walks. We did see some beautiful things and I added another bird to my list for the year. And the route was a little more plowed than some other parts of the greenbelt. So I say, go here in the winter if it is convenient and you like some of the features, especially the library and the bridges. Or if you want a surefire spot to be able to push a stroller easily. Otherwise, give it a couple months and I’ll see you out there again when the weather warms.
Other things to think about:
Guides and Maps: As I’ve noted before, the Boise Department of Parks and Recreation has a bird book for sale that includes 99 species of birds that live here. It costs $8.00 and it’s awesome to have when we’re walking the greenbelt. Pick it up at the Parks & Recreation Department office located at Ann Morrison Park. At the same time get your own map of the Boise Greenbelt to scope out new trail routes at the Parks & Recreation office as well.
Nature Study with Kids: As usual there is plenty to discover with your children. The bridges and underpasses provide interesting milestones along the route. Count them. Make echoes in the tunnels. Take selfies looking downstream or upstream from the bridges. You know. Have fun with it. One bridge in particular is significant. You can learn about the historic Capital Boulevard/Oregon Trail Memorial Bridge and its role in the Oregon trail migration. An interpretive sign and a plaque describe its history.
Along the route there are several other information signs. One describes the greenbelt historical education project, a series of signs describing aspects of Boise history. Another set of signs talks about the life of fish and how each of us can protect their river habitat. Yet another is the display of one planet in the scale model solar system walk. Just past Anne Frank Memorial, the planet Uranus is represented, with a map showing where each of the other planets are along the greenbelt, in proportional distance to the distance between their orbits in space. The Sun is located at the Discovery Center, while the furthest reaches of Pluto is located near the Fire Fighter’s Memorial. It’s a cool way to think about the vastness of the solar system.
This is a great walk to talk about bird behavior and appearance. Ever notice how those beautiful green headed mallard drakes are always hanging out with the drab shades-of-brown females? Why would the males be so showy and colorful while the females are rather plain? It has to do with mating selection and who sits on the eggs and protects the young. Lots of male animals use displays of prowess and beauty to attract females. Lots of animals use camouflage to stay safe from predators. Noticing this in the ducks, especially the mallards that you see, can lead to brainstorming further examples and a great study topic for a wide range of ages. That’s it for now. See you for our February walks.