Plans to let Cottonwood Creek see the light of day in downtown Boise have been scrapped.
Late last year, the City of Boise pulled the plug on a decades-old concept to allow Cottonwood Creek to flow freely through a section of Julia Davis Park on its way to the Boise River. Officials said they pulled the project due to the high cost and the size of the channel required to keep the waterway from flooding during the spring snowmelt season.
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A small project turned big
Cottonwood Creek is a small stream flowing down from the Boise foothills into a 1.5-mile long underground pipe before it meets the Boise River under the bridge at the far eastern end of Julia Davis Park near the intersection of Myrtle Street and Broadway Avenue.
Decades ago, nonprofit Trout Unlimited had a vision to dig up the final section of pipe at the far end of the park to allow the creek to run in the open to create more spawning ground for trout. The idea was for it to become a scenic area with seating and shade trees around the small waterway.
The plan was nothing more than a concept through the early 2000s, but it got new energy in 2017 when the nonprofit approached the City of Boise about using Clean Water and Open Space levy funds to build it. The city’s advisory committee on the funds approved $200,000 toward the project in 2018, which at the time was forecasted to cost roughly $400,000.
But, Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said once it went to an engineering firm for a full design the city got an eye-popping figure back. The project cost ballooned to an estimated $1.4 million and it would need to be significantly wider and deeper than originally envisioned. The full creek would only have water running four to six weeks every year, leaving it mostly empty most of the time.
“Once the design came back there was the small creek we were envisioning now was up to 70 to 80 feet wide and 8 to 10 feet deep,” Holloway said. “It went from a small creek, quite honestly to a channel or a canal. It’s more of a canal now than a small creek and the design would require several large trees in Julia Davis to be removed.”
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The proposed canal would have to have a steep concrete slope down to the water, posing a danger to visitors who could fall down into the water and struggle to get back up. This would require a fence around the area. Holloway also said the heirs of Julia Davis, whose family donated the land for the park years ago, had similar hesitations about the scaled-up project.
Although there is still $8 million left in the city’s Open Space and Clean Water levy fund from the 2015 election, Holloway said the city has other projects and property it has identified to purchase still in negotiations, but the Cottonwood Creek project no longer worked after the final design and price tag came out.
“(The project) wasn’t even bidden out,” Holloway. “$1.4 million could have easily turned into $2 million. We did get the design to a point where the bid could occur, but we all felt a little uncomfortable with the compatibility of that large of a water feature coming through the park and the tree removal would be very difficult to move forward as well.”
Trout Unlimited did land a $100,000 federal grant for the project, but now that the project is no longer happening Holloway said this money went back to Washington D.C. Trout Unlimited and the Boise River Enhancement Network, which was also offered an in-kind contribution, did not respond to a request for comment.