by Liza Long
You’ve probably seen the rust-colored obelisks marking the Oregon Trail, a thoroughfare to the West for more than 500,000 travelers from 1841 through the 1880s. Scattered throughout Boise, these monuments provide a glimpse of the past, too often observed through a car window as we rush through our busy modern lives.
This spring, slow down and enjoy a hiking or biking experience that will take you back to a time when horsepower relied on actual horses, and when transcontinental travel was measured in months rather than hours or days. East Boise features interactive trails designed to explain the history behind our city’s settlement as part of the nation’s western expansion.
Off of Highway 21 before Warm Springs Road, a sturdy rust colored structure shaped like a Conestoga wagon houses an Oregon Trail interpretative center. Created by Ada County in 2010, this center includes a brief biography of Ezra Meeker, who originally traveled the trail with his family in 1852 and who, at the age of 75, recreated the entire grueling experience in the early 1900s as a way to preserve the memory of that trek. Meeker’s reenactment led to renewed interest in protecting historical sites and an appreciation of the Oregon Trail’s role in the country’s history. At the trailhead, visitors can actually walk on a part of the old Oregon Trail. The area also offers mountain bikers an easy trail ride in the shadow of Lucky Peak.
Nearby in the Columbia Village neighborhood on Lake Forest Drive, the Oregon Trail Reserve, another interactive site, provides views of the Boise River Valley that would have greeted settlers weary from a long journey. The well-traveled Kelton Ramp, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, dates back to the 1960s and helped travelers to lower their wagons to the valley below. This City of Boise park features a stunning bronze sculpture from renowned American sculptor Avard Fairbanks. There are three loop trails suited to hikers of all ages, ranging from .8 to 2.6 miles, and restroom facilities are available.
At both sites, you can still see the actual ruts carved by thousands of wagon wheels as they rolled west toward Oregon. Boise was originally a provisioning stop along the way to the West, with Fort Boise providing protection for the trail’s travelers.
In the summer of 2015, Oregon Trail Reserve hikers and Columbia Village residents were surprised by a herd of goats. The 110-acre reserve hosted the herd as part of an effort to reduce fire risk in the area and to create opportunities for natural grass restoration. In 2008, East Boise experienced a severe wildfire that destroyed nine homes but also revealed wagon ruts that were previously unknown.
On a spring day, as you hike along the rim, you can almost imagine a trail of white bonneted wagons, making their way West to a land of opportunity. Today, Boise is a thriving community built on that pioneer spirit.
For more information, visit the Oregon Trail Website.