Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

I’ve traveled through much of the U.S. and some of Europe (the list of places yet to see is twice as long) and each place I go offers something to visitors that makes it worth the trip. I’ve only lived in five cities, however, and more than half of my life was spent in Boise, Idaho. Known across the country now thanks to a much more famous football team (Go Broncos!) when I first moved there in 1980 it was still a sleepy little small-town community.

While it’s grown considerably, almost tripling in size since I moved there as a child, the city has tried to maintain a small-town feel. Unless you’re stuck in traffic, you might think they succeeded. It’s an inviting place to visit.

Like a major artery that provides ongoing sustenance and life, the Boise River cuts through the city of Boise at its very center. Coursing through downtown Boise, the river is the heart of much that happens in Boise. Although the Boise River Festival – held for ten years from 1996 to 2006 – no longer occurs, the spirit of the Boise River remains constantly a vital part of the community.

The Boise State University campus is bordered on one side by the river, and a small walk-across the bridge takes visitors to the campus into Julia Davis Park, where the river invites exploration by paddle boat or canoe. Once the winter runoff has subsided each year, the river is full of people floating the river on rafts and tubes.

Across from Julia Davis Park and accessible through a simple walk or bike ride along the Boise Greenbelt – the miles of paved pathways that run alongside the Boise River – Ann Morrison park offers children a magical playground experience along the banks of the river. Many community events, including Art in the Park and the annual Greek Festival, are held at these two parks that straddle the river.

Several parks line the river.  At Julia Davis Park, you can rent paddle boats or canoes or wander through the Boise Zoo. During the summer, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival is held in a venue with views of the Boise River; the amphitheater is nestled in a habitat preserve where the audience is able to enjoy wildlife as well as distinguished performances.

Boise was a relatively small town 32 years ago when a small group of acting students from Boise State University decided to bring a bit of culture to the town by putting on a play on the lawn of the Main Street Bistro in 1977. The group – Michael Hoffman, Bill Copsey, Dan Peterson, and Stitch Marker – met while doing a stage presentation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at BSU, and history was made the night they opened their first public show and charged $3.50 a seat to put on a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

At the time, one could conceivably understand that Boise was starving for culture. For a capital city, it was not difficult to drive a few blocks and run into a working farm or a herd of cattle. The magic, however, was in the people who made it happen – all of whom are now long-term veterans of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and responsible for its growth from a 300-person, one-night event to a venue with a $6 million dollar budget and plans to operate year-round once the indoor theatre on the river is completed.

In addition to their award-winning performances, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival is actively involved in outreach and provides opportunities for students in Idaho, Oregon, and around the country to be introduced to theater through the Idaho Theater for Youth program and were chosen by the National Endowment of the Arts as one of 35 theatre groups to provide education through the Shakespearience! program as part of the NEA’s new Shakespeare For a New Generation program.

There’s just something about the place: long, warm summers; crisp, cold winters; clean air, tall mountains, gorgeous views; springs that smell like an air freshener commercial; autumns cool enough to make the trees turn colors but warm enough to go trick-or-treat without a winter coat.

Living in Boise, Idaho was the last thing on my 9-year old mind when my dad came home from work and announced that he’d been transferred. Arriving in the middle of one of the worst winters on record didn’t help much, either. It wasn’t until spring that I even knew there were mountains, but growing up in Boise was fabulous.

My dad took us fishing along the Boise River, where we caught trout and had virtual feasts for dinner. We bought a boat and spent weekends at Lucky Peak, finding our own secluded camp spot up the reservoir.

For being a big city, Boise always had a small-town feel. People were still neighbors, often coming together to celebrate holidays, gather in front yards and talk, and watch each other’s kids. The biggest trouble we ever got into was staying out too late playing hide and seek or cops and robbers. It was idyllic.

I know Boise has grown. There are traffic problems and complaints about the infrastructure and everyone worries about droughts and the summer fire season. From the perspective of a kid, though, Boise was a pretty great place to grow up. Boise offers many things to visitors, and even more to residents: a small-community feel with the large city opportunity, a low cost of living and crime rate, a unique personality. Boise is a great place to visit or to live.

Photo credit: By Lordchadwick79 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Downtown Boise 2013