Niall Garrahan loves Boise’s foothills. So much so, he decided to spend a portion of his summer last year studying them.
Garrahan is a junior at The College of William and Mary in Virginia. In 2011, he received a grant to conduct research on a topic of his choice. But it wasn’t until he went on a hike while visiting his aunt in Boise that he decided what he would evaluate. He wanted to figure out how much the foothills were worth, and how their value might affect future conservation efforts.
It was a perfect project for a student double majoring in environmental science and economics.
“Growing up in Connecticut and even being here in Virginia, there’s nothing like that where you can walk out your door and be in a place as cool as the foothills,” says Garrahan.
Garrahan hiked or biked the trails often during his stay last summer, and was thrilled to walk out his family’s back door and quickly be in the foothills.
Julia Grant supervised Garrahan’s during his study. She’s the city’s Foothills Open Space manager, and was elated when Garrahan approached her about the project last January.
“He had received grant funding to do an economic report on the impact of conservation and trails and ecosystems services in the foothills," says Grant. "And I felt like an angel had walked in my door.”
Grant says the city had long known the land value of the conserved area, but had not conducted a study that looked at the social, medical, and environmental benefits of the foothills.
For the project, Garrahan looked at similar studies done elsewhere by groups like the Trust for Public Land and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
So what did he find?
For one, Garrahan estimated that the community saves nearly $400,000 year as a result of all the exercising people do in the foothills. Other financial benefits come from social capital, trail maintenance, and better air quality. In total, he estimates that the foothills provide almost $12 million in benefits to the community.
So what will Garrahan do for an encore?
“I’m not sure what I’m up to this summer," Garrahan says. "I’m probably going to try and get an internship, [I’ve thought about] coming back out towards Boise and looking for one out there maybe.”
One thing his 2012 study didn’t look at was how Treasure Valley businesses benefit directly from the foothills.
Garrahan says that’s one project he’s considering tackling this summer.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio