The Hyatt Wetlands Reserve located in western Boise, encompasses 44 acres of a beautiful, majestic nature reserve sheltered from the bustling traffic and urban development surrounding it. The reserve offers refuge for not only wildlife in the area, but for people as well. Residents from all over the Treasure Valley flock to the area to observe the dozens of bird species that call this little pocket of Boise home. The reserve’s trails crisscross the land, weaving along cattail filled pools and scaling up to scenic overlooks providing extravagant views of this urban oasis. The reserve allows runners, hikers and birdwatchers the opportunity to escape the suburban world around them and enjoy the natural setting that was once paramount in the area. Enhancing the quality of life is not the reserves only benefit; it also serves as a storm water treatment facility. The facility filters out pollutants created by surrounding road networks into clean, safe water. The decontaminated water is ultimately then channeled into the Boise River. The reserves apparent widespread success – not only to the environment, but also for Treasure Valley residents- deserves a review of how it came to be. Especially, as it wasn’t until 2012 that this wild, yet urban wetlands was fully realized by the city.
It’s hard to believe, that just a few years ago this area was somewhat unknown to most Boise citizens. The vast majority of people that did know about this plot of land simply discarded it as an old gravel pit (if they gave it any thought at all). Prior to Maple Grove’s extension in 2005 the area was relatively inaccessible, especially when compared to the magnitude of through traffic the 5 lane road sees today. Even in the early days of the Maple Grove extension, the potential of the area went unnoticed from those passing by. Former president of the West Valley Neighborhood Association, Don Alloway, concurred with the opinions of those traveling through, “from the road, I’d say it’s just a bunch of crazies who want to preserve an old gravel pit.”
To understand why those “crazies” would want to protect this seemingly undesirable piece of land, it would be helpful to know the brief history of the land and the players involved in the transformation. The land where the Hyatt Wetlands sits was initially farmland owned by the Peck family. In the 1960s the Pecks leased the land to an asphalt paving company, who utilized the land as a gravel mine until as late as 1997. The gravel extracted from the area supported many projects throughout the Treasure Valley during that time, including being one of the primary resources in the construction of The Connector. However, the gravel mines extraction efforts began altering the area’s local ecosystem. Excavation caused groundwater to leak into the areas low lying pit, attracting local beavers. The beavers began habitually building dams, at times backing up 20 acres of water. Needless to say, the beaver’s presence interfered with the mining process, causing them to be regularly removed. However, the increase water presence in the area caused the bird population to skyrocket. According to the Idaho Statesmen, 6,500-7,000 birds migrate through the wetlands each year. The land was eventually bought up by Larry Hyatt, sparking the discussion about turning the area into a nature reserve. The land was then partially donated and sold to the Boise Parks and Rec Department during the 1990s, beginning its transformation to what it has become today.
While historically, gravel mining was the dominant activity, gravel workers were not the only people utilizing the land. Residents in the surrounding area saw the land as their own personal nature reserve that no one knew existed. These residents utilized the land as an extension of their backyards; walking their dogs (now restricted), growing expansive gardens and even constructing a small golf green. Although many of these residents were highly motivated in preserving the area (at times even sneaking down and helping rebuild the beaver dams), some are opposed to the Hyatt Wetlands as it exists today. A handful of neighbors are concerned that the development process and increased presence of people have degraded much of the original habitat. “We’re developing something that didn’t need developing,” stated one disgruntled neighbor. However, the majority of these neighbors understand that in order to keep this place wild, there will ultimately have to be some intervention.
Regardless of contentious opinions about how the area has developed, the secret of the wetland is now out, as the area that had long been overlooked is now a one of Boise’s biggest amenities. Those who speculated from the road about the value of the land, now have little left to question, and residents who were unaware of it existence are now the ones filing up its parking lots. It seems that the area’s historic neglect was what enabled the area to become what it is today – of course with a little help from those “crazies” that new of the secret long before.