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Recreation tips: How to keep our popular South Fork Boise River corridor clean and beautiful

An angler launches his drift boat at one of several improved boat ramps along the South Fork Boise River. (All photos courtesy of Life on the Range/the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission)
An angler launches his drift boat at one of several improved boat ramps along the South Fork Boise River. (All photos courtesy of Life on the Range/the Idaho Rangeland Resources Commission)

The South Fork of the Boise River is a scenic and popular place to go fishing, camping and whitewater rafting.

It’s got a blue-ribbon rainbow trout fishery, lots of camp sites, and a challenging whitewater canyon.

With a steady stream of new people moving into the greater Boise area, public use is increasing in the South Fork recreation corridor, a 10-mile reach with road access from Anderson Ranch Dam to the Danskin boat ramp.

“The South Fork of the Boise is a great resource,” says Michael Gibson, Idaho field coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “It’s only an hour away from a population that’s growing very fast. So there’s a lot of people up here, especially on weekends.

“It’s a remote experience, but it’s heavily used, so when you come here, you need to have that mindset, you’re going to come across a lot of people, you just need to be polite and do your thing.”

Along with that increased use comes an uptick in bad behavior – issues that can be hopefully avoided with better planning, preparation and education.

“When you’ve got a lot of use and people, we’re also seeing more trash, we’re seeing a lot more human waste out in the woods,” says Kristyn Stauber, recreation management specialist for the Boise National Forest.

People should come prepared to pack out what they pack in for their camping trip.

“We always recommend pack it in, pack it out. We don’t have trash cans or dumpsters at these facilities, so packing it in, and packing it out is very important,” Stauber says.

“It’s always a good idea to bring several more trash bags than you think you’re going to need. You can always leave it better than you found it, so even if it’s not your trash, if you see trash on the ground, it’s always a good idea to pick that up, too.”

Human waste can be managed at your campsite by bringing a portable toilet for your group, using the existing outhouses in the canyon or digging a proper cat hole.

“I’ve seen people with the tents and the buckets, that’s always a nice idea, and then if you find an outhouse, you can put it in there, you don’t have to take it all the way home.”

Another option is a Wag Bag. Wag Bags are bags custom-made for disposing of human poop.

Camping, campfires and fire safety

Be sure to camp in a designated camping area on the South Fork to minimize impact. The Forest Service has signed, designated camping areas for public use.

Pick a camp site where you can have some privacy. And please respect the space of other campers.

“You should definitely give your fellow campers some space, so you’re enjoying recreation in your own atmosphere,” Stauber says.

If you want a campfire, build it inside the fire rings provided by the Forest Service. That’s the safest way to go. If Stage 1 Fire Restrictions kick in, campfires are allowed only in agency-approved fire rings.

Never leave a campfire unattended. Remember to fully extinguish your campfire. Pour water on the fire, repeatedly, while stirring the embers, until it is dead out.

In addition, dispose of cigarettes safely (pack out), and remember that fireworks are prohibited on Forest Service lands.

Be patient, courteous on your drive to the South Fork

Many people will be in a rush on the weekend to snag their favorite campsite on the South Fork.

“People are really excited to get to their campsite, they’re excited to get out and recreate on the forest, we’re seeing people go kind of fast on the gravel roads,” Stauber says. “So we’re trying to have people remember to just slow down. Don’t be a statistic and have an accident out on those gravel roads.”

Use established boat ramps when launching your craft

There are multiple, existing boat ramps in the South Fork corridor for anglers and boaters.

There’s also a wide concrete boat ramp at the Danskin put-in for the whitewater canyon float trip.

But some people are creating their own boat-launch sites in the South Fork corridor, trampling vegetation in the riparian area.

“There’s a number of developed boat ramps up and down the canyon,” Gibson says. “There’s also a lot of places where folks are throwing boats over the side of the road, or they’ve got a campsite and they want to float into their campsite, and take their boat out there.”

“Not using developed ramps has a big impact on sediment flow in the river, which is not good for fish, and it causes resource damage,” he continues. “Sticking to those developed boat ramps is a good idea when you come up here to float.”

“On this upper end, there’s a boat ramp every few miles. So there’s a lot of opportunities. You can come up and do a short evening float, and you can use a developed ramp that’s 3-4 miles apart. So there’s a ton of options with the developed system that’s up here.”

Overall, Boise National Forest officials hope people can enjoy their recreation experience on the South Fork while doing their part to keep it clean and beautiful for the next group to enjoy.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.