Poky Portneuf Paddle

A man drifts serenely down the Portneuf River on his rubber ducky float during the first Poky Portneuf Paddle in Pocatello last year.

POCATELLO — A popular city-sponsored event that was scheduled for June 26 to promote community recreation in the Portneuf River has been canceled due to the threat of COVID-19.

Interest among locals in floating the river has, nonetheless, remained strong since the inaugural Poky Portneuf Paddle last summer, said Hannah Sanger, the event's organizer and science and environment division manager for the city.

Sanger said the city also remains committed to developing new put-in points and take-outs this summer for people wishing to float Portneuf River reaches just south of the concrete channel through town.

The first Portneuf Poky Paddle last summer included a party in Centennial Park, attended by more than 500 people, with live music, food and refreshments. Though Sanger set a goal of having a couple of hundred people participate in floating the river, roughly 1,000 people floated.

"A major goal of the event was to get people to use the river so we could design river improvements that met community needs," Sanger said.

This summer, the city will invest $16,000 in grant funds from Idaho State Parks and Recreation to develop new access sites at the Pocatello Community Charter School, Taysom Rotary Park, the Cheyenne Bridge, Edson Fichter Nature Area and on Bureau of Land Management property along Portneuf Road, about a mile south of Fort Hall Mine Road.

Sanger said the city is also developing maps of reaches open to floating and signs marking the access points. She hopes to have those finished by the end of June.

In the southern reaches, the river is all Class 1 water, with a few low-hanging branches, bends and boulders.

The distance from the BLM put-in to the Charter School is 5 miles and includes some intermediate water from Cheyenne Bridge to the BLM put-in, Sanger said. She said it's a fun stretch to float, with lots of shade, a few small rapids and good scenery. Sanger said the float passes an isolated stretch of the Portneuf Greenway that isn't accessible to the public, accept via floating. She hopes to have a picnic table installed by the little-known segment of trail.

She said the nearly 3-mile float downstream of the bridge is all beginner water.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Portneuf Resource Council and the BLM are collaborating on developing the access points, she said.

Buck-and-rail fencing has already been built surrounding the BLM put-in: Sanger noted the access point is just north of the interpretive signs about the Portneuf Gap's geology. A parking lot will be dug at the BLM site later this summer, and ease of access to the river will be improved.

Sanger has a second grant pending with Idaho State Parks and Recreation for $15,000. If the funds are approved, they will be invested on put-ins accessing the river reach north of the concrete channel, from the city water shop at Sacajawea Park to Batiste Road north of Interstate 86. She said the city and volunteers have already worked to clear all but two of about 20 debris jams that once obstructed that stretch.

"We are encouraging people to continue to float the river," said Mayor Brian Blad. "It's a great asset to our community, and we like to see as many people as we can get on the river, enjoying the river."

Councilwoman Christine Stevens said Sanger's efforts are key to revitalizing the Portneuf through town and taking advantage of an untapped community asset. Stevens plans to advocate for including $50,000 in the city's next budget to serve as a match to partner with the Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust on implementing the city's Portneuf River Vision plan.

Stevens recalled her excitement to live in a town with a river running through its heart when she moved to Pocatello, followed by her disappointment when she saw that it was confined to a man-made channel through most of that course. Stevens said developing a strategic plan for the city that includes investments in the river would be a winning economic development strategy for Pocatello.

"If we really want to make that river what it could be for this community, we can't rely just on volunteers of my age, Hannah's efforts and no money," Stevens said.

Matt Lucia, executive director of the land trust, said the funds would likely be used to hire a new land trust employee to coordinate the river vision and pursue grants and other resources to see it to fruition. For the moment, Lucia said the land trust's focus is on maintaining its existing projects amid the COVID-19 crisis.

"We've had some initial conversations with the city and some of our board members and there are some tremendous opportunities ahead of us," Lucia said.