The Portneuf Greenway Foundation Board of Directors recently decided to cancel this year’s Riverfest celebration, one of the foundation’s longtime flagship fundraising events.
But that’s not the only recent change involving the Greenway Foundation. Its president, Rory Erchul of Pocatello, has decided to step down from his position after leading the organization for nearly six years.
“As for me leaving the Greenway, it’s simply time,” Erchul said during an interview with the Idaho State Journal at his restaurant, The Yellowstone, located in the historic Yellowstone Hotel on West Bonneville Street in Old Town Pocatello. “I feel like I have done a great job (for the Portneuf Greenway Foundation). I am going to retire and it’s a very good thing. I feel like I have done my fair share for the Greenway and I am ready to pass it along.”
Erchul, who said he became president of the Portneuf Greenway Foundation more or less by default after less than a year of serving on the group’s board of directors, credits much of the non-profit organization’s recent success to a serious change in its operating structure almost immediately after he took over the helm.
Before he became president, the Portneuf Greenway Foundation had a paid executive director and an operating budget that was around $80,000.
“We eliminated that paid director position and were able to cut our budget down to $10,000 or $12,000 a year,” Erchul said. “With that change, we were able to maximize our efforts for our mission, which is to lay down trail. And we’ve done so.”
Since its inception in 1992, the Portneuf Greenway Foundation has installed 15 miles of paved, wheelchair-accessible pedestrian trails throughout the greater Pocatello area and has done so mostly with no direct funding from the cities of Pocatello or Chubbuck.
The foundation’s mission is to create a network of trails, collectively called the Portneuf Greenway, stretching over 27 miles from south Pocatello near the Edson Fichter Pond north to the Portneuf Wellness Complex and west to existing trails near J.R. Simplot’s Don Plant.
Erchul said the development of the Portneuf Greenway trail system is guided by the Portneuf Greenway master plan and a supporting capital investment plan. Though the Portneuf Greenway Foundation focused its efforts on establishing trails along the Portneuf River initially, the broader vision is to have a contiguous comprehensive trail system throughout Pocatello and Chubbuck.
“We are guided by a capital investment plan that gets looked at continuously and often revised every three to five years,” Erchul said. “Originally, we wanted to put trail along the Portneuf River to create a riverwalk. But we cannot put down any trail without easements and landowner permissions. We hear it all the time, ‘Well there are only some completed segments along the river, maybe you should focus on that,’ and we have. But if a property owner says no to the easement (to allow for the construction of a trail on his or her property), then we can’t do much. So we’ve shifted focus to other areas where we can build trail.”
As president of the Portneuf Greenway Foundation, Erchul has overseen the completion of over 5 miles of new trails near the South Valley Connector, along the Interstate 15 corridor near the Monte Vista overpass and most recently near the Farm Bureau building on Pocatello’s east side.
Erchul said designs for a new trail system connecting Portneuf Medical Center to the trail near the Farm Bureau building have been completed and the Portneuf Greenway Foundation should soon start receiving bid estimates for the cost of the project. Work on those trails could start this year, Erchul said.
“Linking the Monte Vista trail down to Pocatello Creek Road would be the next piece and we have verbal commitments from several landowners for that section,” Erchul said. “Then we expect to go from Pocatello Creek Road up to the (Portneuf) Wellness Complex. We hope to have some trail included in the Flying Y interchange work that starts in the next year or so. We’ve also started discussions with the city of Chubbuck to go from the wellness complex to the existing Simplot trail. Another opportunity that the board has discussed is to put trail from South Second Avenue all the way to Fort Hall Mine Road at the Portneuf Gap.”
Erchul added that the Portneuf Greenway Foundation is in its best financial shape ever. Since 2014, the foundation has raised over $1.6 million through grants, donations, fundraisers and corporate sponsorships, he said.
Unfortunately, however, one of the longest running fundraisers for the organization, Riverfest, has not been a recent contributor to that financial success. In the last three years, Riverfest has actually lost money, which is just one of several reasons this year’s event, scheduled for Aug. 17, has been canceled, Erchul said.
“Riverfest has been happening for 20 years or so give or take,” Erchul said, “And back when it started and even 10 years ago, live outdoor summertime music in Pocatello was not as common as it is. Nowadays it seems as if there is a ton of stuff like that.”
Erchul continued, “We’ve seen (Riverfest’s) attendance over the last several years wane and we’ve tried several ways to revive it with multiple stages and different approaches. It just seems that no matter what we’ve done the six years that I’ve been involved it just wasn’t as popular as it was in the past.”
Erchul said some of the lackluster attendance at Riverfest is related to the decision to move the event away from the banks of the Portneuf River to Pocatello’s lower Ross Park, the discontinuation of the Riverfest rubber duck raffle race as well as bad weather during the event.
Though Riverfest will not happen in 2019, the event has not been retired forever, Erchul said.
“We’re not giving it up,” Erchul said. “We want to revamp it and I think the board would like to figure out a new way to bring back those rubber duck races, reinvent the wheel if you will. But I want to emphasize that the mission of the Greenway Foundation is to lay trail that is (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, not to throw an outdoor concert.”
As Erchul prepares to move on from the Portneuf Greenway Foundation, which will vote on a succession plan at its next meeting on Aug. 19, members of the community who worked with him remain hopeful his replacement can continue the organization’s recent success.
“I think the Greenway (Foundation) has made huge strides in the last few years,” said Matt Hunter, president and chief executive officer of the Pocatello-Chubbuck Chamber of Commerce. “Rory streamlined their financials and looked at ways to expand the Greenway trails in ways that had never been before, and that was awesome. He will definitely be missed.”
Pocatello City Councilman Rick Cheatum said, “I have been very impressed with what the Greenway (Foundation) has accomplished under Erchul’s leadership in the last few years. He built more Greenway trails than anyone before him ever had. I’m hopeful his replacement is just as successful.”