Editor's note: This story was corrected Aug. 5 regarding the source of the Boise River.
Christopher Swain is passionate about clean water. And he does a lot more than just talk about it: Swain swims in it.
The purpose, he says, is to put threatened waterways squarely in the public eye, to support protection, restoration, and education efforts.
To that end, he’s front crawled, butterflied and backstroked his way through rapids, 12-foot waves, lightning storms, pesticides, sewage, toxic blue-green algae and nuclear waste. He has survived boat collisions, made unplanned trips over waterfalls, and survived blood-sucking lamprey eel attacks.
And, in recognition for his worldwide environmental efforts, Swain has received numerous awards and accolades.
Now, Swain is donning swim goggles and a wetsuit to dive into Idaho waters. Over the course of nearly a month — from Aug. 8 to Sept. 6 — Swain will swim more than 100 miles through the Boise River. He will swim across Redfish Lake, then walk the trail to Spangle Lake where the river's source water is. He will swim from there to Parma, where the Boise River meets the Snake. The undertaking is aptly titled: “Boise River: Source to Snake.”
While gliding through its currents, Swain will be taking water samples of the river and will meet with community members, students and other local stakeholders to talk about the health of the Boise River.
Swain’s Idaho connection
Swain’s journey to Idaho began in 1996 when Dick Jordan, an AP environmental science teacher at Timberline High School, invited him to speak to students about the importance of clean water.
In the years since then, Swain has had an open invitation to return. Then, Idaho Business for the Outdoors stepped in with the idea of swimming the Boise River, and Swain was in.
IBO is a non-partisan business member organization that supports Idaho’s public lands, public waters and outdoors. It came up with the Boise River: Source to Snake journey to identify the river’s challenges and to celebrate the ecological, economic and social value it provides to the communities it sustains over its 102-mile length.
“While we each have a different relationship and connection to the river, the Boise River Watershed truly links us all,” Idaho Business for the Outdoors Executive Director Heather Dermott said in a press release about the event. “Swain is our lead swimmer, but this is a community-wide water engagement effort. Through the Source to Snake swim and all the activities related to it we hope to empower citizen scientists and drive awareness and action to support fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters throughout Idaho.”
Swain is excited to jump in to the project and fully embraces IBO’s call for community involvement. It is something he is familiar with. According to his website, swimwithswain.org, Swain has swum for clean water from shore to shore, splashing his way down the entire lengths of the Columbia, Hudson, Mohawk, Charles, Mystic and East rivers, as well as Lake Champlain, the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, and large sections of the Atlantic coast of the United States.
To inform, educate and protect
According to IBO, outdoor recreation in Idaho generated $7.8 billion dollars in consumer spending in 2018.
In order to maintain Idaho’s waterways, Swain and IBO will be promoting education and participation in the Source to Snake initiative through workshops centered around promoting the concept of “fishable, swimmable, and drinkable water for all.”
Boise River: Source to Snake events
Here are some other ways you can show your support:
Available now in the iPhone App Store and Android Play Store is the free mobile app: Boise River: Source to Snake. It tracks various actions that can be taken to improve the health of Idaho outdoors, including the Go 100 Initiative, which prompts users to go 100 miles — biking, hiking, swimming, or whatever you chose. Each time you submit an image, it is counted as “an action,” and the goal is for 5,000 actions to be completed over the course of the summer.
In addition, there are a number of events centered around the “Boise River: Source to Snake” initiative.
- “The Boise River Action Month” proclamation — 11:30 a.m., Tuesday, Aug. 6 at Julia Davis Park. The event, which is free and open to the public, will kick off the month and several mayors will be on hand to do the honors.
- Swim with Swain Day — 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Aug. 24 at Sandy Point at Lucky Peak State Park in Boise. In addition to watching Swain swim this portion of his journey, you will also have the opportunity to meet him as well as other planned educational opportunities on site. You can ride your bike with Boise Bicycle Project members to the event, too — meetup time and place for the bike ride is 9 a.m. at Kristin Armstrong Park in Boise. Free.
- Lunch with Swain — City Club of Boise is holding a luncheon, 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 28 at The Grove Hotel in Boise. Tickets are $27 for nonmembers; $20 for members. cityclubofboise.org.
- Kristin Armstrong Friends of the River Celebration — 4 to 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 30. Arrive at 4 p.m. with gloves and do some volunteer work, then stay for the celebration. Bring your own picnic is 5:30 to 8 p.m. This event will be a chance to celebrate the Boise River and its natural resources in a fun community gathering.
- Confluence Celebration and Workshop — Friday, Sept. 6, time TBD, at Martin’s Landing in Parma.