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20 years later, Boise's land levies have protected more than 12,000 acres of public space in the Boise Foothills

The Boise Foothills open space campaign was led by Lauren McLean, with the support of then-Mayor Brent Coles and hundreds of volunteers.

BOISE, Idaho — In 2001, Boise voters approved a $10 million levy that would go towards keep public lands public and prevent further development in Boise's Foothills by 6% of the vote. At the time, critics called it "the blank check levy," but 20 years later and an additional levy in 2015, the Boise Foothills have more than 12,000 acres of protected public land.

"The people have spoken, this is the will of the community, to step forward to preserve the wildlife habitat, to set aside a heritage for the next generation.," then-Boise Mayor Brent Coles said at the time.

The two-year, $10 million levy was eventually used to buy and protect land in the Dry Creek, West Foothills Complex, Hull'sGultch/Military Reserve and the Table Rock Warm Springs Complex.

The Boise Foothills open space campaign was led by Lauren McLean, with the support of Mayor Coles and hundreds of volunteers.

"When you look at those hills it's so beautiful, it's our home, it symbolizes so much of why we live here and the quality of life that this entire community has said tonight, they're wanting to preserve," she said.

While Mayor Coles said the property tax system in Idaho is fair, some Boiseans decried the levy.

"This has been really mislabeled, it should be [called] 'the blank check levy' because they have not told us what they are going to purchase," one Boisean told KTVB in 2001.

Later, in 2015, Bose voters approved another $10 million levy with 70% of the vote and that was used to implement clean water improvement projects. The City of Boise bought parcels of space, scenic easements, trail easements and conservation easements.

"What the levy afforded the city the opportunity to do was to say that willing landowners were willing to invest, we would like to partner with you and then what we saw was just amazing, where so many landowners wanted to give more," now-Mayor Lauren McLean said.

Since 2001, the City of Trees has acquired more than5,800 acres of open space through the use of levy funds. Between the 2001 and 2015 levies, more than 12,400 acres of public land have been protected.

"We place value on open space, we place value on clean water and we place value on making sure that our kids and grandkids have it and we are willing to pay for it," McLean said.

The City of Boise recently announced a new "30 by 30" initiative, which pledges to protect 30% of natural spaces while spending up to $30 million for future open spaces.

To mark the historic vote 20 years ago, the City of Boise is opening an exhibit at City Hall called "Boise's Open Space." The exhibit will feature historical photographs, paintings and stories about the origins and conditions of the Boise Foothills, as well as the impact the levy has made over the last two decades.

"The foothills are really such a unique area of Boise. They really contribute to our sense of place here. I guess what this exhibit does is to show a snapshot of the uses of the foothills in the past and today," Brandi Burns, the history programs manager for the city said. "Let's just have a moment to really reflect about how great it is that we have publicly accessible land that we can all enjoy." 

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