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Managing Rock Creek

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The Twin Falls City Council recently toured a potential site in Rock Creek Canyon for a city amphitheater, but it then made a wise decision to take a harder look at this ambitious idea before jumping in. If anything, the outdoor theater concept may not go far enough.

Today, Rock Creek Canyon shows a mix of uses. There are some fishery-related raceways, a CSI fishery research facility, plus occasional private parcels and small ranches, as well as a modestly-developed county park and walking path.

But mostly, the creek area has been a convenient dump for unwanted goods and trash over the decades. Much of the area is inaccessible, a tangle of Russian Olive, teasel and weeds, little visited and mostly ignored.
Eric Smallwood’s idea of using one parcel for an outdoor concert and performance venue is one which would add to Twin Falls’ amenities. But it also would come with significant costs, including parking, concession and maintenance facilities, lighting, access for the disabled, and emergency vehicles, as well as ongoing staffing, police and fire management and continual upgrades and refurbishing.

None of that is cheap and would fall mostly on city taxpayers at a time when the city is already looking at how to upgrade fire stations and improve downtown.

Prioritizing “wants” versus “needs” is an ongoing challenge and a common one in Idaho where many communities are struggling with rising taxes and other growth pressures. There are lots of amenities we would all like to see, but not every one is affordable.

The basic issue here is that Twin Falls has treated Rock Creek Canyon as an “out of sight, out of mind” place. We’ve had neither the resources nor the inclination to do otherwise. Traditionally, we’ve turned our backs on Rock Creek while the city has grown to the North, East and West.

But the area has real potential, if we look at it closely. Many other communities have flowing water and/or small reservoirs and have turned these into community resources with long term planning and incremental development.

Boise’s Greenbelt is good example, as is Idaho Falls, with walking paths, office facilities, attractive venues which face the flowing waters and enhance the whole community.

It may seem a stretch, but similar ideas could make sense for Rock Creek. In short, we should look at how to bring the water up to the level of the town.

One or more small impoundments on Rock Creek would open further recreational and economic uses. Low-head hydro, such as being used by Twin Falls Canal Company, would add to Idaho’s “green” energy profile., as well as providing power for an expanding economy. The tailrace outflows would be “Class A” fishing waters. As well as adding rafting and canoeing.

The impoundment waters could add to the city’s lawn sprinkling systems, help with flood control and reduce agricultural runoff into the Snake River downstream. Parks and numerous “venue” sites would become available for amenities like concert theaters and regular events like Boise’s Shakespeare Festival or the “ponds” along Boise’s Park Center Blvd.
And, in this high-desert place, additional storage of water is always a decided plus for community beneficial use. Now, that water is simply running past the city to the Snake River.

Next to these impoundments would be ideal housing, commercial, restaurant, office and multiple sites for work and play, as has been done successfully on Boise’s Park Center Blvd, Pocatello’s Portneuf River drainage, or as in Idaho Falls or such inviting city zones as Austin, Texas’ River Walk or Coeur d’Alene’s. Beach front parks and development, just a block or two from downtown.

Those ideas “worked” in those locations because the water is close by and was made accessible. That should be the goal for Rock Creek.

Over time, now “lost” or under-utilized property near the new water bodies would increase in value, thus adding to the area’s economic base. As property ownership changes, so would opportunity, as has been shown in downtown Twin Falls and elsewhere.

People love being near water, and we’re well positioned here to bring something like this about over time,. It might take decades to complete.
Indeed, the potential for Rock Creek was the topic of an informal meeting several years ago, attended by city and county officials and others. A similar “task force” approach would draw in multiple perspectives.

The timing wasn’t right then, but may be now. The council made a good call by stepping back a bit and taking a more comprehensive look at Rock Creek’s future. And potential. It should now “think big” and long term.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of two new books on Southern Idaho, “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” and “Spirit of Place: Southern Idaho Across Generations.” He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com
 

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