BOISE — If you’ve ever hiked a Ridge to Rivers trail, wandered Harrison Hollow or admired the beauty of the Foothills, you can extend some thanks to one Boisean who had a hand in making it all happen. Tim Breuer, 58, was the first official orchestrator of the Ridge to Rivers trail system that now traverses the Foothills. And until the past couple of weeks, he was the executive director of the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, a group dedicated to conserving natural spaces in the Boise area.
He played an integral role in what are now some of Boise’s favorite outdoor recreation options, and he’s quick to acknowledge the group effort it took to achieve them.
“The successes often attributed to me took place because so many people were involved and helping,” Breuer told the Statesman days before his Dec. 21 retirement.
From business to Boise trails
In the 1980s, Breuer was working in business and on the verge of wearing out a pinstriped suit, he joked. Originally from South Dakota, he grew up riding his bike as “a free-range kid on the Great Plains.” In Boise, he had the opportunity to mountain bike and quickly found a community of Idahoans biking and hiking on impromptu trails in the Foothills.
But at that time, no one was managing or maintaining the trails. The land was owned piecemeal by various agencies and private landowners, many of whom weren’t happy with the people trespassing on their property. Breuer set out to find who owned a tract of land in the Lower Hulls Gulch area and learned just how difficult a situation it would be to navigate.
“I went up to the assessor’s office, got the [property] map. And that’s when I thought, ‘This is not going to be simple,’” Breuer said.
He joined up with other recreation and land activists and organizations, such as the Boise Front Coalition, to find some way to legitimize the trails.
“When I met [Tim], he was a banker,” recalled Diane Ronayne, one of the Boiseans who helped form what later became Ridge to Rivers.
“My husband and I had bought a house in the Foothills in 1986 ... and people were using [the area] as a dump, riding four-wheelers around and causing erosion,” she said. Breuer, Ronayne and their cohorts took their concerns to the city of Boise, the Bureau of Land Management and landowners with trails crossing their property. By the early ‘90s, Boise Mayor Dirk Kempthorne had voiced an interest in protecting the Foothills, and Breuer saw his opportunity. His group pulled its resources together and forged a deal with the city, county, BLM, Idaho Department of Fish and Game and other partners to form Ridge to Rivers, with Breuer as the facilitator.
Leaving business behind — sort of
Breuer wasn’t sad to leave the business world.
“If you can have a career that brings you down that other path instead of sitting at a desk, why wouldn’t you take it?” he said.
But his business background lent some valuable skills: Breuer became Ridge to Rivers’ primary negotiator with landowners, many of whom still allow easements on their property to connect the trails that snake around Boise.
“If you don’t have the property owners on board, you might as well go hang out with your friends for coffee,” Breuer said.
The system initially comprised about 90 miles of trails. That number has more than doubled to 190-plus miles, in part thanks to Breuer’s social skills.
“He’s just a master at getting along with people,” Ronayne said. “If it weren’t for him, I’m not sure we would have the Ridge to Rivers program.”
His people skills also impressed Jonathan Krutz, former board member of the Land Trust.
“There are so many people in the story of why we have such great open spaces in the Foothills, and Tim is woven in all of them,” Krutz said.
Though Breuer left Ridge to Rivers to lead the Land Trust in 2006, he’s stayed a regular on Boise trails. He even helped bring them to Harrison Hollow.
The highlight of a career
Breuer said he’s been interested in land trusts as long as he’s been working on trail and access issues. He said the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley protects the things that make Boise a great place.
Perhaps the most well-known example of that is Harrison Hollow, a strip of city-owned land that runs between Hill and Bogus Basin roads in the North End.
In 2011, the property owner put the parcel up for sale, and Breuer pounced on the opportunity to snap up the land. But a storage warehouse was also eyeing it. Breuer met with the landowner’s daughter in hopes of convincing the family to preserve the space. He told them he’d need a year to raise the money.
“The owner of Harrison Hollow could’ve easily gone another way,” Breuer said.
In one year, the Land Trust raised $600,000. The owner accepted, and the city of Boise repurchased the land. Today, it’s a popular hiking and running spot.
Krutz, who worked alongside Breuer at the Land Trust, said Breuer’s ability to pull the deal together was impressive.
“There’s no guidebook to handle something like that,” Krutz said. “There’s so many ways with something like this that people could be unhappy, and they weren’t.”
“This community is amazing, and the people who love our Foothills and our open space and our river ... it’s humbling for them to put up their hard-earned money,” Breuer said. “And it was really the highlight of my career.”
Krutz said Breuer’s vision for Boise’s open spaces was pivotal; it left a legacy.
“Those things don’t just happen,” Krutz said. “That’s someone looking to the future.”
Much of Breuer’s career has kept the future in mind — there’s not much point in preserving land otherwise — but he hopes Idahoans will take the past into account, too.
“People moving here now, they don’t know what was at risk in the Foothills,” Breuer said.
He said he’s heartened to see the conservation movement growing and evolving, and he hopes Boiseans keep in mind the spirit that sparked Ridge to Rivers nearly 30 years ago.
“It’s going to be really important for citizens to be really mindful of others and share the trails,” Breuer said.
And he’ll be out there sharing them, too.
“What we set out to do in the late ‘80s and what it is today [is amazing]. Every time I see someone smiling on the trails, I feel good,” Breuer said.