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The river once ruled this valley, expanding and contracting according to the snowpack from above, winding over rocky outcroppings and meandering through brushy meadows, picking its path according to it’s own whims and rhythms. This unpredictable force of nature presented a dilemma to the white settlers who thundered west to tame the land and make it profitable.

Fertile farm land below Lucky Peak Dam

Efforts to control where the water went and who could use it began as early as 1908 with massive canal projects, followed by the construction of the Diversion Dam power plant in 1912. More upstream dams followed, culminating with Lucky Peak Dam, which was built in the early 1950’s. Lucky Peak, named for a legendary gold mining camp, has become an important part of Boise’s recreation and economy. Not only does the dam provide a measure of control against downstream spring flooding, but it also doles out precious agricultural water throughout the long, dry summers, generates power, and in recent decades has become a vital recreational asset to an outdoor-minded community.

Diversion Dam and Power Plant

Located just 17 miles from town, the reservoir lures overheated townies who bob and scream across it’s surface in all manner of water craft, from buzzy little jet skis to sail boats during the summers. A paved bike path connects it to the city and is a popular year-round spin for Boise’s super-athletes. Cyclists risk being distracted by the river on one side of the bike path and towering columns of basalt, dotted with rock climbers on the other side.

Bike path beside the river

The outlets for the dam are located uncharacteristically low in the structure so that when excess water is released, pressure from the bulging reservoir shoots the water into a rooster tail spray. This construction is designed to minimize downstream erosion by bleeding off energy from the water as it drops back down from it’s lofty journey through the air. Most of the time, release water is captured in the Lucky Peak power plant, which was built in 1986 But during spring runoff, excess water is sometimes released in the rooster tail fashion, creating a weekend spectacle for Boise residents who are between outdoor passions — sliding from winter sports into summer gardening, biking, fishing, and hiking. It is really a stunning sight.