52 Greenbelt Walks: Weeks 8 & 9 Adventures from Eagle’s Merrill Park

NOTE: 52 Greenbelt Walks is a weekly post about my adventures with baby on the Boise/Garden City/Eagle greenbelt. The greenbelt is an amazing treasure with unlimited opportunities for exploration and enjoyment. Doing adventurous things near where I live is one of my creative travel strategies. It can be for you too, wherever you are.

February 22 & February 26
These two weeks were extra fun for me because we headed out for walks on a part of the greenbelt I had never been to before. We started at Eagle’s Merrill Park, a charming little playground and open space near the intersection of Eagle Road and State Street. There is easy parking, and past the playground equipment is a sweet little wooded entrance to the river and greenbelt. This part of the trail runs along the North Channel of the Boise River. As usual there was plenty to see.

Eagle Greenbelt Merrill Park River Walks
First Walk  Merrill Park to Old Bridge and Return 3.94 miles
Front pack, backpack, stroller or bike

Second Walk Merrill Park to Eagle Road Loop
1.97 miles  Front pack, backpack, stroller or bike

Getting there by car: Head west on State Street. Pass Highway 55. As you continue, on your left you will see a sand and gravel supply yard. Just a bit past that turn left onto Edgewood Road. Jog to the right at Riverside. Follow Riverside until you come to Merrill Park. Turn into the parking lot.

Trail directions: We took two separate walks. There is no really great loop from this starting point. Once you head out to the greenbelt from Merrill Park you can go left or right. You can also go left to get to the Merrill Park bridge over the river that is visible from this trail intersection. Once across you can again turn left or right. If you go west, you can make a 1.4 mile loop that includes walking on a shoulder section of Eagle Road. Not ideal, but you avoid backtracking. You can also make smaller loops by taking the paved greenbelt proper part of the way, then turning it at the Alternative Unpaved sections and returning via that route. While some sections of the paved trail will reach a terminus from this point without you being able to cross the river to the other side, it is still worth exploring. There are amazing things to experience. You can simply turn around when you feel like you’ve gone far enough, like I did.

To make the Eagle Road loop, head out from Merrill Park and turn left onto the greenbelt. Cross the river at the Merrill Park bridge and then turn right onto the path. This path runs between the river and open space/houses. About half a mile down you will arrive at Eagle Road. Walk up the embankment and onto the shoulder of the road to cross. There is no sidewalk, but the shoulder is fairly wide. Once across, traverse the grass to get back down to the greenbelt and veer left past the hotel. If you want, you can take an unpaved river-side route back to Merrill Park.

WALK #1 Merrill Park to Old Bridge and Return

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Walk #2 Merrill Park to Eagle Road Loop (spur trails where we turned around due to distance and standing water)

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Our First Walk
The first day, I started at Merrill Park. Jenas and I parked in the parking lot, and after gearing up we walked past the seasonal splash pad, bypassed the playground equipment, and went right to the greenbelt access trail. This access trail is a really nice, wooded entry onto the greenbelt, and I found myself smitten.

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Sweet!

I had read some walking directions and was hoping maybe I could make it down to the West Bridge and around the south side of the river from this point. Nope. For one thing I forgot my map. For a more important thing, it is way too far for me on foot to the West Bridge. And not only that, there is no through trail on the south side. It goes west for a ways and then dead ends at a field near some industrial lakes. We never would have made it back. I walked about 2 miles on the north side of the river before I decided I should turn around and come back when I had better information, and maybe a bike. I did use my GPS google mapping skills out there, and I was pretty sure I was a long way from where I wanted to get. I don’t recommend relying on Google maps for trail information! Get a map from ACHD and it will be much more reliable for you. (Information below.)

But when I headed out I was ready for a new adventure. We turned left onto the greenbelt, took a few pictures of the bridge, and continue on without crossing. Not to far along we came to the Alternative unpaved route.

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Funny, at this point on the trail, the greenbelt “paved” path is all rocky and rugged, so there wasn’t really a less bumpy option with the stroller. So I took the Alternative. It was prettier, and more natural. So why not? It was a little jiggly and uneven for baby Jenas, but definitely doable. I found out on the way back that the rocky portion of the greenbelt trail is short and the trail does become paved again not too far along.

The water was flowing high and moving quickly. Especially noticeable this week compared to the previous week or two was the random debris floating downstream. A branch here. A floating log here. Down the Boise River they zipped.

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The unpaved section was approximately six tenths of a mile long. When we reached the end we met up with the paved trail again and continued our outbound journey. Along much of the way there is construction happening on the left of the trail. At first it was housing development and heavy equipment in the distance. Then it was no trespassing developer signs and former industrial lakes.  And by the time we got to our stopping point, big construction trucks were chugging by on dirt roads right at the path.

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It made me wonder why it has taken so long develop these riverfront parcels of land that would seem like desirable acreage. The river and its riparian habitat haven’t always been the aesthetic and recreational draw it is now. For much of its early development history, the river was treated as an expendable resource to despoil at will. Trash, sewage, and industrial slog all made their way to the river and banks. I’m glad times have changed. Can you imagine Boise without the greenbelt?

2 miles along we came to an old bridge and the trail turned from pavement to gravel. I don’t think we were that far from the West Bridge, but I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure where to go from there and I didn’t know how much energy I had left. I sat down on a thinking concrete bench and tried to zero in with my gps. Nope. It was time to turn back.

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Bridge to …?

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Sat right down on this thinking slab.

We walked back down the path and stayed on the paved section the whole way. Part of the trail has tree coverage on both sides, making me think this section of greenbelt will be really pretty in spring when the trees are leafy and flowering making an arbor over the trail. Among other birds, I positively identified  a hooded merganser while I was out there. That was a new one for me and I was pumped to see it.

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The Second Walk
On our second walk from the park I wanted to check out what happened if we crossed the bridge over the river at the park and walked both banks. My sweetie carried baby Jenas in the backpack, which is always nice. It’s kind of similar to how baseball player practice swinging their bats with weights on them, and then can swing extra powerfully when they’re at the plate and their bat is freed. That’s how I feel when I’m out walking and not carrying the baby. Carrying her is part of my normal routine, but it’s also a form of conditioning. When I don’t have to carry her it translates into amazing power and energy.

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We headed out to the left on the greenbelt from Merrill Park and crossed the bridge there. I’ve mentioned before that I love bridges, crossing them, taking pictures, noticing them and their practical and aesthetic awesomeness. Always cool. And jeez  was the river high. On the south side we turned right and walked along a decomposed granite trail. The river was on the right, houses and backyards on the left. It’s kind of fun to see what people do to make the most of their riverside locations.

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As for finding a looping route, we met with mixed success. We did complete a proper loop with no retracing steps. But…

I knew at the far end  we would either (a) find a super secret bridgey-tunnely magical threshold to loop back to the park. Or (b) we would have to walk along Eagle Road. Plan (b) it was. The walk along Eagle Road was not terrible, but I wouldn’t want to do it with young walkers. Our baby was in the backpack so she was safe. But it’s not the most pleasant to be out trying to enjoy nature and fresh air, and then have to contend with cars whizzing by. You can see from the photos that it’s super busy. And we even waited for the light to turn and traffic to die down.

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We walked a little past Eagle road before we crossed to see where it led, but it turns out that it’s terminus is a ways down on another busy street, so why not just take Eagle Road? So we turned around and did.

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We made it to the other side and it was an uneventful walk back to towards our car. Except for the river! Check out the walking underpass! After we crossed Eagle Road and rejoined the trail, this was the scene in the opposite direction.

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I’ve seen ankle deep flooding on this part of the trail before, but this was crazy. The path here heads under Eagle Rd. and dead-ends at State Street past the strip mall on the other side. Luckily, we didn’t need to go this way today.

Heading back to Merrill park, we checked out the unpaved Alternative Route, but even some of that trail was socked in with standing water and we had to turn back. We made it back to our car eventually and were glad for the getting outside and the time spent together.

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P1040554I like this section because you can keep it paved, or head off-road right along the river. You can go in different directions from this base. But honestly, finding a great walking loop is hard to come by. I think this would make a great launch point for a half day bike adventure. The distances are long enough that it doesn’t make sense to check everything out on foot. But you could do it on a bike.

Other things to think about:

Other times of year. I completely plan to come back to Merrill Park and this part of the greenbelt this summer. My baby will be 1+ and walking and I can’t wait to take her to the splash pad. It also sounds fun and adventurous to me to check out the unpaved trails along the river and walk some mini paved-unpaved loops on the north side. We can touch and listen and see and meander to our heart’s content when it’s a little warmer. Hurry up summer!

Trail maps: For this section you should pick up the ACHD bike route and trail map. There are several routes and spurs to check out and it’s nice to know at least a little of what to expect. Ask for the Ada County Bike Map at the ACHD office at 3775 N Adams Street in Boise.

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