Gina Gregerson remembers a childhood full of fun and adventure. “We had a huge mountain of sand on the property, and I had a enormous rope swing. I had the most awesome childhood with my dad and all of the birds and animals.”
Unfortunately, her mother died when she was 7 years old. But Gina and her father were very close. He took Gina everywhere. She remembers going to countless auctions and junk yards, where Ollie would buy all kinds of things that he might want to fix up, sell or use for whatever. He developed many mining claims around Silver City, Idaho City and Atlanta. He loved going to the mountains in search of precious metals.
“He knew a lot about geology,” Gina says. “He knew how to find gold. He loved being in the mountains.”
Her father took her to all kinds of cultural and seasonal events in Boise and all over Idaho. The birds and animals came from all kinds of sources, she says. “We had hundreds and hundreds of birds and animals, anything he could find” — ducks, geese, pheasants, Guinea fowl, peacocks, llamas, emus, mouflon sheep, mountain lions and more.
The header over the gated entrance to the property said, “Gregerson’s Wildlife Park.” Other signs said, “No Trespassing.” The Gregersons were very private people who did not want the public to disturb the animals or their river-bottom land.
“I spent much of my life taking care of the animals and keeping up the irrigation lines,” she says. “We are Scandinavians; we have a strong work ethic.”
Gina went to Roosevelt Elementary, East Junior High and Boise High School. She didn’t particularly like going to school. She figures her teachers must have wondered sometimes about what was going on in her home life.
“I’d come to high school all covered with scratch marks from head to toe from raising baby cougars,” she says with a smile.
While Gina treasures all the amazing birds and animals she got to interact with, she’s glad to see the Gregerson property being turned over to the Idaho Foundation for Parks and Lands to preserve the vast river bottom habitat for native wildlife.
“What matters is the land,” she says. “I lived in a magical kingdom in that cottonwood forest ecosystem my whole life. I’ve seen the most magical things out there. I owe it all to the land.”
Most of the non-native birds and wildlife that lived on the Gregerson property are gone today, except for a few mouflon sheep and one emu named “Leon.” Gina is in tune with all of the native insects, birds and wildlife that live in the Barber Pool area, and she celebrates the changes of the seasons.
“When I see the local vultures returning, circling around in the sky, I run out, wave, jump up and down, and welcome them back home,” she says. “And then I cry when they leave in the fall.”
“Sometimes I go out at 3 a.m. in the middle of the night just to listen to the coyotes, geese, owls and the beavers in the river,” she says. “Right at that moment, it’s like the most magical place on the planet.”
Volunteers clean up Gregerson property
Beginning in January 2021, Foundation Board member and Treasurer Stephani Hilding took the bull by the horns to head up a long-term effort to clean up the Gregerson property. Over many years, Gregerson compiled a wide assortment of things that he stored on the property. He rarely threw anything away.
“We’ve been going through and picking up things piece by piece,” Hilding says. “Once you unbury one layer, you find another layer. Literally, you name it, it’s out there – everything and anything.”
Over the last 1.5 years, Hilding has partnered with a number of volunteer groups, including Bill “Action” Jackson and the Idaho Youth Education Recycling Partnership (iYerp), to remove items from the property. In the partnership with Action Jackson, iYerp provides large dumpsters in which valuable metals and recyclable items can be placed, and they haul it off to Pacific Recycling.
“Once we got started, the volunteer program just kept growing and growing,” she says.
So far, Hilding has recruited 195 volunteers who donated 870 hours of work to remove 1,140 tires and 20 cars/trucks. They also have filled 40 large metal recycling containers, 12 large construction trash containers and 10 large construction containers with building materials.
Key contributors to the cleanup activities include:
•Riverstone International School
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•100 Men for Good
About $47,000 has been raised so far to assist with the cleanup, Hilding says.
“Now we have plenty of volunteers, but we could really use some professionals with heavy equipment to haul away some larger items we need to remove,” she says. For more information about volunteering for the cleanup, go to the Foundation web site: idaholands.org.
Barber Pool Master Plan charts course for the future
The Foundation recently completed a detailed Master Plan for the Barber Pool Conservation Area in March of this year. It was a collaborative effort that laid out a shared, cohesive vision for the future. A group of 30 partners who had a direct interest and ownership stake in the Conservation Area were involved in every step of the planning process. An additional 30-person group of “Friends” provided key insights and subject matter expertise while participating in planning workshops.
Foundation Board members Brandy Wilson and Stephani Hilding, both of whom live near the Barber Pool Conservation Area, co-managed the Master Planning process for the Foundation with support from staff and the collaborative partners.
“Basically, the Master Plan was a chance for everyone to sit down and discuss how the entire area should be managed, ecologically and for human use, where the foothills meet the river. What emerged was a shared vision and goals for the area. This is useful to all partners in securing budget and funding for management of each parcel within the overall Conservation Area,” Wilson says.
The vision statement says: “Create an ecologically functional, sustainable and community-supported Barber Pool Conservation Area that will maximize protection for native plants and wildlife by inviting people to act as stewards for generations to come.”
The Master Plan has three goals:
1. Protect and enhance wildlife and fish habitat
2. Manage human use to minimize disturbance
3. Provide public outreach and education.
Protection of wildlife — particularly bald eagles, resident and migratory birds and mule deer — is an overarching theme for managing the Barber Pool Conservation Area in the future.
The Master Plan notes that the collaborative group made an intentional decision to reduce human disturbance in the Barber Pool area as much as possible. Why?
• The Boise River corridor is a critical winter range area for mule deer and elk migrating from the Sawtooth Mountains to lower elevations. In the foothills and mountains above Barber Pool, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game owns 36,000 acres of land to maintain a large winter game range for deer and elk.
• The area is important for resident and migratory birds. Bald eagles roost in the Barber Pool area in the winter-time, and a few bald eagle nesting territories have been established in the corridor. IDFG recommends a 330-foot buffer around nest sites for non-motorized recreation activities during the entire breeding season, which extends from January through August.
“We simply can’t turn this into another Barber Park to Ann Morrison stretch, like what we float today,” Wilson says. “This part of the river needs to be treated with respect and quiet from the people who use it. It’s a different place.”
• There is high potential in the Conservation Area for restoration work – side channels in the river and restoring native habitat underneath the cottonwood forest.
• Off-leash dogs, off-trail people, and wildlife don’t mix.
At the Diane Moore Nature Center, managed by the Intermountain Bird Observatory (IBO) at Boise State University, restoration of a side channel on the Boise River, immediately downstream from the Idaho Highway 21 flying bridge, already has begun. They’ve planted 4,000 native plants in the riparian area so far. The side channel will benefit trout spawning and brood-rearing habitat, expansion of wetlands, cottonwood regeneration, and the production of macroinvertebrates, natural food for fish.
IBO, Ada County and the Foundation have placed a number of public education signs along the Boise River Greenbelt as it passes by the Barber Pool Conservation Area to set the tone for how they would like the public to interact with nature in the area.
The Master Plan details a number of management actions that each ownership group can take to enhance the natural habitat in the Barber Pool Conservation. It will take more than a decade for these measures to be implemented, depending on budget and priorities, officials said.
A big part of the strategy is to prohibit public use in a large part of the Barber Pool area owned and managed by the Foundation, and focus recreation along the Boise River Greenbelt and IBO existing pathways. Public education and signage will emphasize the value of preserving wildlife and wildlife habitat in the core of Barber Pool Conservation Area and explain why it’s important for humans to respect the goals and vision for the area.
“We had some questions about whether the public will support protecting an area they can’t use or have access to,” Wilson says.
“But based on the number of volunteers helping out with the Gregerson property cleanup and IBO projects, we feel confident that the public will understand our objectives to protect Barber Pool Conservation Area for nature and wildlife. This is really the only place along the Boise River in the urban zone where we are restricting public use for nature and wildlife to this extent. Our education outreach will be important today and in the future to ensure we have good compliance.”