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The Laura Moore Cunningham

Lauren McLean, Boise City Council member

Joan Cartan-Hansen: How did you get involved in the Boise Foothills movement?

Lauren McLean

Lauren McLean: It all started in the basement of the C.W. Moore Plaza Building at a meeting Chuck McDevitt was holding. I showed up along with probably 40 or 50 twenty-and thirty-somethings who wanted to save the Foothills in Boise, and we formed committees. I ended up becoming a campaign manager and the effort took off.

JCH: Tell us about the campaign.

Lauren: We took the recommendation of the Foothills Committee to place a levy on the Boise City ballot. We formed the campaign committee in January and the election was in May. It's something that nobody believed we could do. In fact, that seemed to be the only consensus in town - which it was that we couldn't do it. But we did it thanks to Mayor Brent Coles and the City Council who put it on the ballot for Boise city election. Lots of groups of people had fundraisers and knocked on doors and made phone calls talking about how important it was that we preserve our Foothills forever.

JCH: We've heard this before that efforts to preserve the Foothills are done by people who have been told it can't be done and yet they still do it. How?

Lauren: Boise is a special place and it's special because of these incredible Foothills. People who are drawn to choosing this place, or those of us who have always lived here, believe deeply in preserving the place for future generations. When the window is right and there is enough energy to do something, people in Boise stand up and say, "Let's do it."

Idaho Statesman newspaper headline: Boise to decide Foothills fate

JCH: What challenges did you face with this campaign?

Lauren: There were so many challenges, but the great thing about this campaign was that nobody involved in the campaign really believed there were challenges that we couldn't overcome. This was really a grassroots effort. We didn't have the buy-in of many leaders outside of the City Council. It was really a band of 500 citizens who volunteered, raised money and got the word out about why it was so important to vote yes to save our urban space.

We said that we'd focus on setting aside open space in three areas: one above the Harris Ranch area and Table Rock connecting all that area, the second in the Hulls Gulch region, and the third in the western Foothills.

Early in December or January when some of the people believed it couldn't be done, polling showed that maybe 40 percent of Boise would vote yes.

Foothills levy ballot

I remember on Election Day morning when it was time to start calling everybody to remind them to vote. We had hundreds of people making phone calls, and I was still convinced that there was no way we could do this because everybody said it was impossible. When we started talking about the numbers of voters we knew were going to vote that day, we realized that it was ours. Ultimately, after telling the story of our Foothills and presenting the value of preserving them forever, 59 percent of the people in Boise said this is a good idea. Now, we did not know that we would win with the margin we did. No, you can never hope for that. But I can still remember that moment that night when we realized we were hitting 59 percent. It just felt great to know that this wasn't a slim win. It was really the people of Boise saying, yes this is what we want and this is our future.

This effort to preserve the Foothills was really an effort by hundreds of citizens who believed so passionately in the beauty and solace of this area that they tried something that every other smart person in town said we couldn't do and that was to pass this levy. So this success really belongs to the city and those citizens who worked so hard to do this - instead of just one person or two people who happened to be lucky enough to lead the effort.

JCH: How much money was asked for in the levy?

Lauren: The levy was for $10 million. We promised the people of Boise that we'd leverage that money. It wouldn't just be $10 million worth of open space. It would be more. I believe that the city has really done so much more than any of us ever expected. Ten years later, we've set aside over 10,000 acres valued at nearly $40 million and we still have money available. And with the good work of the Foothills Commission, we've actually managed to set aside land in all three of those initial areas of the Foothills.

JCH: Was supporting a levy to buy and preserve the Foothills a rather unusual thing for a city to do?

Hulls Gulch panorama

Lauren: It was. It was really a turning point for our community. I really believe that it was the story and the passion of our volunteers that made the difference. When we told the story person-to-person, that is what made it a success. Ultimately, this is our place and it connects so well with our citizens. And when you connect the levy, the value and the promise that a successful levy brought to the city with the passion that our residents have for this place, it was like magic.

JCH: What do you anticipate for the future?

Lauren: Eleven years after the levy, we still have about $4 million available to acquire open space forever. There are quite a few parcels that citizens want us to look at and that landowners want us to consider.

It is a great time to acquire open space for Boise residents. Beyond that, we really have to come up with a plan to manage the Foothills. We were, as I said, so much more successful in acquiring land than we ever imagined. Our residents love our Foothills so much more than we ever imagined so we've got to come up with a long-term solution to manage it so that we can all use the land without loving it to death.

JCH: What do the Foothills mean to you and your family?

Lauren: About two months ago, I was running with my dog in the Foothills and the sun was setting and everything was golden and I felt like I was flying. For me, the Foothills are in my soul.

Runners on a trails cut in the side of a Boise foothill, with Idaho Capitol in the distance

When my kids talk about the Foothills it's oh, that thing that mom did a long time ago. But they know it is a place they can go play in a creek or can go and walk the dog. I think that when they are older, they will have great memories all related to that place and it will mean home to them.

JCH: That's the simple answer — it means home?

Lauren: Yes, that's what the Foothills mean to me. They mean home. Knowing that they'll be here for my grandkids means a lot. But even beyond that, the Foothills are here for everybody. That just makes me so happy and so proud of what we did.