POCATELLO — Thanks to the efforts of numerous volunteers and community partners, canoeists and kayakers can now float the Lower Portneuf River “without a saw” to clear debris.
The city of Pocatello plans to hold a celebratory ribbon cutting on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. at the Abraszewski Trailhead at the end of Kraft Road. The community is invited to participate.
“We want to celebrate the river and all the work so many people put into cleaning it up,” said Hannah Sanger, the city’s science and environmental division administrator. “There are a whole bunch of agencies that made this happen and lots and lots of volunteers who’ve put in so much time.”
Sanger said volunteers have spent many hours pulling tires, trash, water bottles, plastic bags, railroad ties and lumber from the 5-mile stretch between Sacajawea Park and Batiste Road, north of Interstate 86. And local companies have lent them excavators to help remove some of the larger debris jams.
“Thank you to the community partners and volunteers who made this happen, especially: City of Pocatello, Idaho DEQ, Idaho State University, JR Simplot Company, Keller Associates, Koger Excavation, Portneuf Resource Council, Portneuf Watershed Partnership, Scouts BSA, Stoneridge Consulting, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and Western States CAT,” according to a news release.
Efforts to keep the river clear will likely be an ongoing effort, Sanger said.
While they have removed garbage and blockages from the river, Sanger says they’ve left some of the more natural debris.
“Our goal is to maintain a fish habitat,” she said. “We do not want to remove everything, but we want to have a river that is floatable for canoeists and kayakers.”
Sanger says she was recently able to float the Lower Portneuf River with some friends.
“We had a lot of fun,” she said, adding that the rapids near Hoku were exciting and it was gratifying to be able to float the river without having to have a saw in hand. “It’s beautiful down there. We saw deer, great blue heron, kingfisher, and we saw an owl. It’s a magical place.”
Sanger said they will have a shuttle at Tuesday’s event for those who want to float to the site of the ribbon cutting and need a ride back to their vehicle. People can also continue on to the Lower Portneuf River.
However, Sanger says they suggest only experienced canoeists and kayakers do so due to the rapids in the area, and they don’t recommend the use of inter tubes.
In addition to the work that’s been done to clear the river, the Bureau of Land Management recently organized a workday on their piece of the Portneuf River by the gap, south of Fort Hall Mine Road.
“Thanks to 20 volunteers who braved the rain, this BLM property is now fenced off from the neighbors and ready for a gravel parking lot to be installed next spring, followed by a hardened access point to the river,” according to the news release.
The Portneuf Resource Council provided funding for the buck-and-rail fence, the Portneuf River Partner offered building expertise and supervision, the city contributed some tools and supplies and the BLM hosted a barbecue for the volunteers, officials said.
All of the above efforts are part of the Portneuf River Vision that’s aimed at revitalizing the river while improving quality of life, economic development and recreational opportunities in the area, Sanger said.
“We did a huge public outreach to guide the work in 2016,” she said. “Now we’re trying to implement those projects that connect people to the river.”
Moving forward, Sanger said they plan to improve river access points and put up more signage about access.
Officials are also trying to raise funds for the Centennial Park project. That effort, which is still in the design process, will move the levees back to create a wetland and improve river access while maintaining flood protection, according to a Portneuf River Vision brochure.
They’re still working out the final cost, but Sanger said they’re anticipating it will be about $2 million.
In the meantime, Sanger says she’s thrilled to see how many people have been using the river for paddle boarding, tubing and other activities.
“We are so excited to see people using the river and having so much fun on the Portneuf in the levees section,” she said. “It demonstrates how ready Pocatelloans are to reconnect with the Portneuf River.”