CALDWELL — Visitors to downtown Caldwell can take a stroll along Indian Creek, take in the beauty of the rushing water and relax along its banks.
Indian Creek has played a varied role in the city of Caldwell. It provided irrigation water for the area's earliest settlers. It was a smelly nuisance that was to be avoided and buried away. It's also been a catalyst for recent downtown revitalization.
Indian Creek got its name because Native Americans routinely held meetings along the stream, according to "Idaho Place Names," by Lalia Boone. The book lists a total of six separate creeks with the same name throughout Idaho.
In 2003, 37 writers from The College of Idaho in Caldwell collaborated on a book called “Rediscovering Indian Creek.”
According to their book, Indian Creek is a natural creek that is 55 miles long and runs from the Danskin Mountains southeast of Boise, under Interstate 84, through Kuna, Nampa and downtown Caldwell before it meets the Boise River.
The creek was dammed near the town of Mayfield to create the small Indian Creek Reservoir.
Before settlers and even Native Americans arrived in the area, the creek flowed only in springtime with water from melted snow. When the New York irrigation canal was built in the early 1900s, Indian Creek became a year-round flowing creek. The creek and the canal flow together for four miles from the Kuna area to the Ada and Canyon County line, according to the book.
With growth and development in the area, the meandering creek has also been straightened and realigned in spots.
Indian Creek was not always the attraction it is today. It flooded Nampa and Caldwell several times in early 20th century. A typhoid epidemic broke out in Caldwell in 1950, which was blamed on the creek's unsanitary conditions. Runoff from farm and dairy operations, feedlots, streets and emissions from a wastewater treatment plant polluted the water. That brought foul smells, disease and even rats to the area.
Indian Creek was avoided at that time, not celebrated like it is today.
The trouble led to the creek being covered by streets and buried underground and out of sight. In an ironic twist to the recent events we've seen in downtown Caldwell, covering up Indian Creek helped increase business. Instead of annual festivals designed to draw people to its banks, parents of children in Caldwell hid the creek from them, because they didn't want their children near the dangerous water, according to “Rediscovering Indian Creek.”
According to Idaho Press-Tribune reporting at the time, in 2001, the Caldwell City Council began looking into the possibility of uncovering the creek as a way to revitalize the downtown area. Work officially began in 2004 with the demolition of a car wash that was collapsing into the underground creek.
The city uncovered three and a half blocks of the creek and added landscaping, walking paths and pedestrian bridges.
Today, the sun sparkles on the water in the summer months while lights from the city's impressive Christmas display shine along the creek banks in the wintertime. The creek is celebrated in Caldwell each year during the Indian Creek festival.
The city recently purchased the old Sundowner Motel in downtown Caldwell and plans to continue the creek restoration in that area.