Bird watchers and other people who enjoy nature will soon be able to walk into a marshy area along the Big Wood River west of Hailey without getting their feet wet.
The wetlands is one of the most bio-diverse areas in Blaine County. Later this summer, it will be accessible to the public via a 1,050-foot, compacted-gravel pathway and wooden boardwalk being constructed by the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust.
"If people can't see it and get out to it, they're not going to know to protect this type of environment," said Land Trust Executive Director Scott Boettger. "I don't want it to be a ride in Disneyland—I want it to be a wild-land experience."
Construction is scheduled to start on the Draper Croy Creek Boardwalk in mid-July and to be completed in time for Labor Day weekend. The pathway will start on dry ground owned by the city of Hailey just south of the Lion's Park baseball field. From there it will loop into the wetlands area of the 84-acre Draper Wood River Preserve.
"It's not a long and arduous walk," Boettger said. "One of the cool things is having this right in our own backyard."
Moose, beaver, raccoon and other native wildlife are known to inhabit the area, but the biggest draw, according to the Land Trust, are the numerous species of songbird and waterfowl that make the forested area and wetlands home or a migratory stopover.
Wood River High School biology teacher Larry Barnes has been conducting student bird studies in the area for several years.
"The bird diversity is higher than anywhere else in the Wood River Valley except for Silver Creek," Barnes said.
Birds recently observed by Barnes and his students in the area include yellow warblers, black-cap chickadees, Wilson's warblers, redwing blackbirds and an unidentified species of hummingbird. Other birds sighted are a Cassin's finch, pileated woodpecker, wood ducks and cinnamon teals. Barnes recently photographed a secretive water bird known as a Virginia rail.
Boettger said he expects having people in the wetlands area will cause only minimal disturbance to the wildlife, and once they get used to people, the animals will go about their business as usual.
"I think the beauty of this site and what it offers our experience is worth it," he said.
The boardwalk will cost about $211,000. Boettger said an Idaho Department of Environmental Quality grant is paying about 40 percent, while the remainder is being gathered through private donations.
About 60 percent of the money is now in hand, but Boettger said that was enough to order supplies and get construction started. He expects that the balance of the funds will be received later this summer.
"We want to get people to buy into it, to have ownership," Boettger said. "If they have an investment in it, they're going to see that it is taken care of and not vandalized."
Part of the area to be encompassed by the boardwalk was once a landfill. During the last few years, in partnership with the city of Hailey, the Land Trust removed more than 1,200 tons of debris from the area and has replanted part of it with native vegetation.
Boettger said the Land Trust would like to eventually extend the boardwalk farther into the area and build elevated bird-watching platforms.
Trey Spaulding, Land Trust director of operations, said the boardwalk and future improvements to the area will benefit the local economy.
"This could be a tremendous economic impact for the community," Spaulding said. "Wildlife watching is a $46 billion industry in the United States."
Spaulding said that in 2006, birdwatchers alone spent about $12 billion in the U.S. on trip expenditures and another $24 billion on equipment.
"The best thing about this economic 'bird in hand' is that it is provided by nature with minimal expense and huge potential in return for all of the community," Spaulding said. "Expenditures associated with birding can ripple through the local economy by impacting economic activity, retail sales, tax revenue, employment and household income.
"When's the peak time for watching birds and wildlife? "It's slack time," Spaulding said.
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contribute to the boardwalk
The Wood River Land Trust is still accepting contributions for the Draper Croy Creek Boardwalk, which will be built this summer west of Hailey and south of Lion's Park. Donors can purchase an inch of boardwalk for $25, a foot for $300, or a yard for $1,000. Larger contributions are also being accepted. For more information, call the Land Trust at 788-3947 or visit its website at www.woodriverlandtrust.org.