On Aug. 8, long-distance swimmer and river-protection advocate Chris Swain will swim the length of Redfish Lake to start a journey that will include swimming 102 miles down the Boise River to the Snake River.
According to his website, Swain was the first person to swim the entire lengths of numerous rivers, including the 1,243-mile-long Columbia, the Hudson and the Charles, as well as Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay and large sections of the Atlantic coast. His intent is “to put threatened waterways squarely in the public eye, and to support protection, restoration, and education efforts,” the website states.
Idaho Business for the Outdoors, a business-member organization supporting Idaho’s public lands and waters, created 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,” a press release from the organization states.
“Swain is our lead swimmer, but this is a communitywide water engagement effort,” said the organization’s executive director, Heather Dermott. “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.”
The organization has developed a free mobile app, Boise River: Source to Snake, for the public to track simple actions to support the health of the river and to follow Swain’s progress.
From Redfish Lake, Swain will hike to Spangle Lake, the source of the Boise River high in the Sawtooth Mountains. Dermott said he will hike from there down the Middle Fork of the Boise, collecting water samples along the way, to its confluence with the North Fork, about 15 miles upstream from Arrowrock Reservoir. He will begin his swim at the confluence, which marks the start of the Boise River.
Idaho Business for the Outdoors will provide citizen scientists and support crew to join Swain and document the journey as he swims through Lucky Peak Reservoir then downstream past Boise and Parma, where the Boise River joins the Snake River.
Along the way, Swain will share his location, personal physiology and water quality data through social media. He will also stop to conduct interviews with landowners, business leaders, community members, farmers, miners, students and river recreationists.
Dermott said the Boise River has numerous water-quality issues.
“It’s primarily from urban and rural runoff—phosphates, nitrates and e-coli,” she said. “A lot of it starts below Boise. We’re really trying to unite urban and rural communities.”
She said her organization is advocating better control of dog feces deposited in urban areas and better agricultural practices to reduce fertilizer runoff in rural areas.
In addition to data provided by Swain, Idaho Business for the Outdoors will gather baseline data on water quality from the source to the Snake, supporting water workshops for high school students from six towns, and host community river engagement events. High school water workshops will focus on fishable, swimmable and drinkable water quality standards, as well as the economic and health benefits of outdoor recreation.
Swain plans to hold a confluence celebration on Sept. 6.
For more information, visit swimwithswain.org.