TWIN FALLS — Some outdoor and recreational enthusiasts daydream of starting a mountain bike ride or hike at the Twin Falls Visitor Center, descending down to the Snake River and Auger Falls, crossing the river, and then climbing the Yingst Grade on the return to the canyon rim on the Jerome side. That dream is now much closer to becoming a reality.
For nearly 10 years, a small group of outdoor recreationists hoped to connect the two sides of the river at Auger Falls Heritage Park with a pedestrian bridge, potentially replacing the abandoned “interstate bridge” built by the Idaho Transportation Department years ago when mining the canyon for materials to build Interstate 84.
The crossing would join the park on the south side of the canyon with a planned park on the north side in Jerome County.
“Last year, (Idaho Parks and Recreation) accepted several grants looking at the Snake River working on projects with Jerome 20/20 on the Jerome side of the canyon and with the Snake River Canyons Park,” Michael Young, program manager for Outdoor Recreation Leadership at the College of Southern Idaho, said. “None of those grants were funded and none of those applications came through, but a lot of those projects are still in the works.”
But this year, prospects of securing funding seem brighter.
Melissa Barry, executive director of Southern Idaho Tourism, submitted a grant proposal Thursday on behalf of the organization, alongside Jerome 20/20 seeking $212,000 from an Idaho Parks and Recreation Recreational Trails Program Grant, to be used with a $90,000 match from other groups to rebuild the bridge.
The plan also has support from other key groups: The Twin Falls City Council agreed last Monday to put $10,000, or 5% of the total project cost, into the rebuild. Jerome County has likewise offered to contribute $10,000, EHM Engineers, $35,000, the Magic Valley Trail Enhancement Committee (MaVTEC), $20,000. Jerome 20/20, Southern Idaho Tourism and the Jerome Recreation District have promised $5,000 each.
“EHM Engineering is a huge partner in this and is helping give back to the community by doing all of the engineering work as match,” Barry said. “We’ve had great support from around the community, but EHM and MaVTEC have been over the top.”
Other key players share Barry’s enthusiasm.
“MaVTEC is very excited to partner with Southern Idaho Tourism on this project,” said Jaime Tigue, director and founder of the group, in an email to the Times-News. “We are thrilled that the City of Twin Falls and Jerome are supporting the project as well, and Melissa (Barry) is able to move forward.”
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The project could potentially lead to many opportunities once the two counties are connected, Young said. The idea invites discussion of trail loops, builds access and promotes safety for hikers and bikers with a year-round accessible bridge across the river.
Young hopes the state will stand behind the initiative for human-powered recreation, especially as an alternative to building or rebuilding roads.
“(Barry) started talking to folks at the state level and they (said), ‘This is the kind of project we are interested in’,” Young said. “They (Idaho Parks and Recreation) have this big pot of money every year that they focus different groups on, and in general they want that (money) to go to making a local resource better.”
The bridge project, however, is only a small piece of a much larger puzzle and goal.
Young’s effort to unite the Snake River Canyons Park and Auger Falls Heritage Park is the catalyst. The next step for the Snake River Canyons Park committee is to build a new trail system on the roughly 463 acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management within the Snake River Canyons Park.
Young envisions building and maintaining the property — on the north side of Golf Course Road between Silver Beach Drive and 100 East in Jerome County — much like the Auger Falls recreation area.
“I’m working specifically with the Snake River Canyons Park committee, which has an obligation through Jerome County to operate, promote and develop all of that property as a recreational resource,” Young said.
The next step he sees as necessary is a connection from the Yingst Grade to the trails on the canyon rim, eventually forming a loop.
“We’d love to be able to start at the Visitor Center and hike or bike or run a full loop both directions all the way around, coming out to almost 20-something miles, with some road, but protected in some way,” Young said.
Young added that, in order to move forward, conversations with Jerome County and north-side landowners such as businessman Herb Allen and the Jerome Country Club are critical to solidify the full loop idea, which would ultimately connect both parks and the two counties.
The grant review process will take place over the next several months. A decision is expected sometime in June.