Recreating on thin ice: Examining the problems with winter greenbelt usage

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The greenbelt along the Boise River provides plenty of opportunity for all forms of recreation. On a warm summer day, people can be seen running, biking or taking their dogs for a stroll. Whether it’s to stay in shape or take a break with nature, the greenbelt is an incredible opportunity for people to recreate in their own backyard.

Emiliana McCormick, a junior business management major, is an avid runner of the greenbelt in the summer and fall. The beauty of Boise is what always brings her back.

“A lot of time while you’re running, you get to see the river and all the new architecture, that’s my favorite part,” McCormick said. “I enjoy seeing Boise, and there’s a lot of the times that you’ll see either classmates, people you know or accidentally make friends while running.”

While some recreators like McCormick find the winter season too chilly to spend time outdoors, others thrive in it. Gabe Finkelstein, coordinator for the university’s Cycle Learning Center, rides his bike 10 miles a day for his commute year round. In the summer months, Finkelstein said that the most comfortable time period is in the morning.

“That’s when the majority of the population is out enjoying the trail because it’s not sweltering hot,” Finkelstein said. “It’s actually a few degrees cooler riding or walking next to the river, (rather) than away from it.”

In the winter however, Finkelstein said that the “refrigeration effect” of the river doesn’t necessarily help when the temperature is already roughly 20 degrees. In the frigid temperatures of wintertime, it’s important to be wearing the right protective gear. Lack of personal care is a hazard that Finkelstein thinks recreators should be more aware of.

“I see a lot of people on cold days, especially students on campus, with no gloves, no hats and no helmets,” Finkelstein said. “Getting frostbite stinks. There’s some permanent nerve damage that can happen.”

Regardless of season, there are always people riding their bikes along the greenbelt. For recreational purposes or commuting, Finkelstein wants students to be more aware of other greenbelt users.

“The biggest rule of thumb and etiquette is to maintain control of your bike,” Finkelstein said. “There are a lot of distractions: there are people walking dogs, (while) you might have headphones and you’re not able to hear everything.”

While accidents can happen because of a lack of awareness, different environmental factors can create their fair share of injuries, as well. Winter precipitation requires frequenters of the greenbelt to use specific equipment like water resistant clothing and snow tires, but Finkelstein believes that one of the biggest environmental hazards winter greenbelt users experience is a slick patch of ice.

“If you think you’re on an icy patch, just let your bike roll over it. Don’t do anything erratic or try to change your momentum,” Finkelstein said. “The best idea is to slow down a little bit and check your speed.”

When it comes to the dangers of icy bridges and paths, Finkelstein is not alone in being concerned about recreators. Parks Superintendent Jennifer Tomlinson said that ice is the biggest issue the Boise Parks and Recreation Department faces when it comes to winter greenbelt maintenance.

“Parks and Recreation has invested significant resources in making sure that the greenbelt is cleared when a snow event occurs and more than 1 inch of snow falls,” Tomlinson said. “However, ice presents a greater challenge, as our means to address it are limited, and it is a real safety issue for users of all kinds.”

To counteract this safety issue, Tomlinson said that students using the greenbelt should always be prepared for less than optimal conditions while the Parks and Recreation crew works hard to maintain Boise’s outdoor pathways. Whether someone is biking, running or just enjoying the scenery that Boise has to offer, Tomlinson said that it’s important to be kind, courteous and respectful to all greenbelt users.

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