BURLEY — The Snake River’s course through Mini-Cassia may soon be lined by nearly 10 miles of walking paths aimed at increasing residents’ quality of life and drawing recreationists to the river’s edge.
Burley and Heyburn city officials seeking to provide recreational access to the region’s chief waterway have separately strived toward constructing miles of greenbelt park and pathway to take advantage of Snake River views. With the recent completion of the first phases of each city’s plans, residents and city officials alike can eye a day when the paths link to form a multimillion-dollar recreationists’ haven and a potential catalyst for development.
“When people come across the river and see the golf course with the mountains behind it they say, ‘That’s a million-dollar view,’” said Doug Manning, Burley’s economic development director. “There are very few places that have this kind of river frontage.”
Heyburn Riverside Park already features 2.5 miles of paved walking path that winds through the beginnings of an arboretum in the city’s southeast corner. Across the river in Burley, a 3/4-mile path lines Scholer Park and the Burley Municipal Golf Course to the city’s east.
On Burley’s western edge, work has started at the city’s newest park along Bedke Boulevard, where the path will lead walkers and bicyclists.
Today, both walking paths can be accessed from the Burley-Heyburn bridge, which links the two cities along U.S. Highway 30.
“I am down there every day and there are people crossing the bridge to get to both paths,” said Roy Belnap, Heyburn property owner.
Belnap, who owns an 80-lot subdivision that borders Heyburn Riverside Park, said he’s eager to work with Heyburn to develop an extensive walking path system in the city.
City of Heyburn Superintendent Scott Spevak said the city plans to extend its path another three miles from the Burley-Heyburn Bridge, northwest along O Street to either 18th or 21st streets. The most likely route will run the path to 21st Street, which will feature a new sidewalk after completion of a planned $1.8 million widening project.
Spevak said extending the walking path to the North Burley Walmart is included in the city’s comprehensive plan, along with construction of a path to Rupert along the canal that runs parallel to Idaho Highway 24.
Belnap said he’d like to build a walking path through his subdivision that would tie into Heyburn’s path, circling around the new Heyburn Elementary School and connecting to the city path near the Burley-Heyburn Bridge.
Heyburn officials would like to eventually tie the city’s path to Burley’s at the Overland Bridge, which would create a nearly 10-mile loop.
“We are not two different communities — we are one,” Belnap said of Burley and Heyburn. “And hooking the paths together at the bridges would be like tying us together.”
New life for an old bridge, and a new park, to boot
Burley’s 8-foot-wide, nearly completed path along the city’s golf course is lined with native plants and protected from errant golf balls by an 8-foot-high fence, said Zeke Zimmerman, director for the Oregon Trail Recreation District. The district helped build the path in conjunction with the city, contributing $70,000 to the effort.
“It’s been a long time coming but it’s a wonderful asset,” said Scott Horsley, recreation district board member.
But there’s still something missing.
The path lacks a 55-foot bridge spanning part of the Goose Creek drainage system, which empties into the Snake between the golf course’s second and third holes.
The recreation district plans to use two sections of the deconstructed Jackson Bridge, which formerly linked Cassia and Minidoka counties upriver of Burley and Heyburn, to cross the drainage. Sections of the 16-foot-wide bridge will be moved into place under the oversight of the recreation district, and will be broad enough to house a picnic table or benches without impeding walkers and cyclists.
Zimmerman said two Eagle Scouts are lined up to refurbish the bridge sections this summer, and the sections are expected to be in place by Aug. 1.
In the meantime, Zimmerman said, people can cross the drainage at an existing earthen bridge along the path.
He said the next phase of Burley’s greenbelt path will begin at the city’s new, unnamed park on Bedke Boulevard. The trail will originate at the planned city park north of High Desert Milk and extend northeast toward the Overland Bridge.
City of Burley Administrator Mark Mitton said the city plans to finish the parking lot at the new park and then stabilize nearby riverbank before installing a boat ramp.
Riverbank stabilization will include the planting of willow trees and placement of angulated rocks against the bank to deter erosion. The process will continue down the riverbank for 3/5 of a mile, along which the second phase of the path will follow.
“There is no sense putting in the path until the bank is stabilized,” Mitton said.
The city has worked out a permanent lease agreement with a private landowner for 3,300 linear feet of a 20-foot-wide strip of ground in exchange for taking on the riverbank stabilization work.
Upon its completion, the path will continue east under both the Overland and the Burley-Heyburn bridges, using floating walkways to tie into the path at Scholer Park.
Mitton said the city will work with about four private landowners to attain needed land for the path, but already owns about 90 percent of the property it needs for the greenbelt.
“We will just work with the landowners as we go,” Mitton said.
A city’s master plan, a district’s vital role
Development of Burley’s greenbelt path has been in the works since 1990. By 1994 concrete plans had been drawn up.
In 2005, the city contracted a development company, Grassli and Associates of Salt Lake City, to create a project master plan.
A conceptual drawing was produced that suggests lining the path with housing, small retail shops and an amphitheater west of the Overland Bridge. East of the bridge, the plan outlines retail and commercial developments, a children’s learning center and an ice skating rink where current wastewater treatment lagoons are located.
Commercial and retail development along the path will depend on private investors, Mitton said.
“There will be some fairly major hurdles,” Horsley said. “The biggest being the airport. However, there are some possibilities to detour a path around the airport.”
Mitton said although the Grassli plan was conceptual and not meant to be followed to exact specifications, most people who look at the drawing like it.
City of Burley Engineer Bryan Reiter said any zoning changes will be dealt with as commercial and retail growth occurs along the path.
Although development may spring up around the greenbelt, the effort remains firmly rooted to its recreational potential. Manning said the establishment of the Oregon Trail Recreation District has played a major role in making the greenbelt path a reality.
The district was established in 2006, and as a taxing district collects $36 yearly from about 4,500 Burley households. Although the money is used for various recreational projects, Zimmerman said the district remains committed to the greenbelt because it was one of the main goals of the district’s founders.
“It takes a little time for something like that to get legs,” Manning said of the district. “But now it’s up and running and doing some really good projects.”
Manning said the economic downturn hasn’t seemed to slow greenbelt development. While there’s no firm timeline for the project’s completion, the effort is already gaining momentum as residents use the path’s newly completed first phase.
“In the next three to five years I think you are going to see some impressive things,” Manning said.
A unique attraction
Across the river, six acres of Heyburn riverfront property have been developed into an RV park, restrooms, an amphitheater and picnic pavilions. Heyburn Riverfront Park also includes boat slips to access the water and the first 2.5 miles of the city’s paved trail, which follows the river and winds through the park’s arboretum.
The improvements are part of a four-phase trail expansion plan within the park, which will include a parking area and development around the path’s major loop and four smaller loops within the park. Heyburn Riverside Park Manager Earl Andrew, also the city’s grant writer, said when the South Idaho Arboretum is complete it will contain hundreds of trees, shrubs and flowers.
“It is unique to southern Idaho,” he said.
Andrew said the amphitheater is now overseen by a committee of members from across Mini-Cassia and will host a Fourth of July concert as well as a bluegrass concert on Aug. 7.
“That is a great feature to have on the river,” Andrew said.
Manning said the greenbelt will increase the quality of Mini-Cassia life and also attract new business and tourism. He added that many successfully developed U.S. cities include similar greenbelt walking paths.
“Most people who come here are looking for that kind of thing,” he said. “People love the river frontage, they love that there is development happening along the river and when they see that they think it’s a good progressive community on the rise.”
Manning said area residents often take the river for granted because they see it everyday and become accustomed to it.
However, he said, it’s the first impression a visitor has of the area, and it’s impressive.
He said when the paths are complete, people will look back and be really glad the cities pursued them.
“Because it’s going to be amazing,” he said.
Laurie Welch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 677-5025.