Conservation projects are usually considered important to ensure Idahoans have access to clean air and water, a place to play with their families, and an outdoor environment. However, what people don’t always consider is that conservation is important to a safe and accessible environment for all outdoor areas. Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting the Portneuf Soil and Water Conservation District. The group works with state and local government on conservation projects that include environmental education programs, identifying local natural resource conservation needs and providing services to land owners. The group is especially important to my district and Pocatello because they work in cooperation with Bannock County. PSWCD works closely with the state legislators and my district so I made it a priority to visit with them. I was hoping to get some insight into some of the projects they have been working on recently with their partners.
We spent a large part of our day exploring some of the work done with the Lava Trails Project. From 2016 to 2018, PSWCD worked to give approximately 1,600 feet of trails along the banks of the Portneuf River a face lift. They partnered with the Lava Hot Springs Foundation and the city of Lava Hot Springs to identify opportunities on trails that were in desperate need of renovation.
I am one of many Idahoans who has fond memories of summers playing in the Portneuf River. People from across the state would use the river to spend the day tubing with friends and family. The group focused on access points that are used by the residents to get into the river by foot and the trails that were used to walk alongside the river. Unfortunately, the high use of the river (along with years of weather) had left several areas dangerous or difficult to use. The access points were extremely steep, had little or no vegetation, were damaged in several places and had a high risk of people falling in accidentally.
Through multiple phases of construction, PSWCD worked to make sure that getting into the river is a safe and fun experience. They added rock retaining walls, planted new foliage, hardened the trails, added fencing and numerous other improvements. Afterward, the trails looked brand new and the river is, once again, accessible to the public.
The Lava Trails Project made the Portneuf River accessible again. Without this project, the river would have been a danger to the community that loved to use it. When we talk about the importance of conservation, we sometimes forget that the groups working so hard to preserve our rivers and lands have such a major impact on our safety.
Funding to conservation groups continues to be one of my most important values as a state representative and an Idahoan. Pocatello is surrounded by rivers, mountains and miles of trails that give Idaho families a place to play. We have to ensure that those areas remain safe after they get used so frequently. This is especially true when we have lots of rain, snow, wind and other weather that damages pathways and reduces foliage. It’s important to protect and invest in the networks that make meaningful commitments to protecting our outdoor environment.
The value of conservation measures in Idaho can be seen through many lenses. Groups like the PSWCD make it possible for Idahoans to readily use some of the best parts of our state. I am so grateful to the groups that protect the river I spent so much time in during my childhood. And I am grateful that they continue to make areas like this to future Idahoans.
This column was written by state Rep. Chris Abernathy, D-Pocatello.