Boise River float season starts next week. Officials urge shuttle use, mindful parking

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The annual tradition that sends Idahoans and visitors bobbing 6 miles down the Boise River through the city is about to begin.

On Tuesday, June 15, the raft and equipment rentals at Barber Park, the activity’s launch area, will open for the summer, according to Ada County Parks and Waterways. Though the river is never fully “closed,” the county parks department opens the official season once river flows, weather and debris clearance herald a safe environment.

The clearing of debris from the river is conducted by the Boise Fire Department, which is followed by a “reconnaissance float” taken by Scott Koberg, director of Parks and Waterways. Koberg told the Idaho Statesman that he conducted his review on Monday, and the fire department cleared remaining debris on Wednesday.

The popular hot-weather activity brings more than 125,000 floaters to the river each year, according to Boise Parks and Recreation, which is separate from Ada County’s parks department. Though statistics on the number of visitors from outside Boise are hard to nail down, Koberg said, “we’ve kind of joked that we could play license plate bingo (in the parking lots) and hit every state.”

That can lead to a lot of crowded river days, something that officials are focused on this year.

Summer river floaters have the option of parking at Barber Park or Ann Morrison Park, where floaters exit the river after their trip. A shuttle runs daily during the summer between the two parks, and Boise City Council member Patrick Bageant told the Idaho Statesman that after years of complaints from residents about attendees leaving vehicles in the neighborhood off South Millbrook Way near Barber Park, he’s encouraging people to park at Ann Morrison and take the shuttle.

“A lot of people don’t know that that’s an option,” Bageant said. “There’s just not enough places to put cars up around Barber Park.”

There are around 500 parking spots at Barber Park, but Ann Morrison has roughly 1,300, Bageant said.

New parking regulations on streets near Barber also aim to stop people from leaving vehicles outside of designated lots.

“Do not park in nearby neighborhoods — your vehicle could be cited and/or towed,” Bonnie Shelton, a spokesperson for Boise Parks and Recreation, said in an emailed release. “These ‘no parking’ areas are clearly marked and will be monitored by parking services throughout the float season.”

By parking at Ann Morrison and taking the shuttle upriver, Bageant said floaters will have an easier time. They can finish with their trip, go straight to their vehicle and head home.

“… It is objectively a far better way to do it,” he said.

The public air pumps at Barber Park will be turned off again this summer, according to Koberg. The pumps were off last year to avoid overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he said his department noticed the benefits of having people bring their own, which include that rafters have a pump on board in case a float deflates during the trek.

But Bageant said he’s concerned that leaving the public air pumps off might discourage people from parking at Ann Morrison Park, which could lead to more congestion at Barber. The shuttles generally do not have enough room to carry fully inflated crafts from Ann Morrison, he said, and some people might not want to haul a pump with them.

“Having those air compressors and the air filing station turned on is a key part of encouraging people to use the shuttle and managing conflicts,” he said.

Koberg said that people floating in a group could drop off equipment at Barber Park and inflate their rafts before one person drives to Ann Morrison, drops off the car and takes the shuttle back.

“I think we make it pretty convenient for everybody,” he said.

Children younger than 14 are required to wear a life jacket while floating, according to the county parks department, which actually recommends that all floaters wear one.

“It is a 6-mile stretch of a river and not a lazy river at a hotel or neighborhood swimming pool,” Koberg said. “Prepare and plan accordingly.”

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