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How the Idaho Falls Friendship Garden was formed and became a popular gathering place

Sportsman Park, circa 1940. Four zoo cages are visible on the right. Keefer’s piers are located between the two sets of fish runs. The upper walkway ran from the swinging bridge to the area behind the cages. Sections of the foundations of the walkway can still be seen under the bonsai tree next to the Kanji Stone on the upper level of the garden. | Courtesy the Museum of Idaho
The Japanese Friendship Garden area has been a place where families gathered for generations. Around 1900, local women formed the Village Improvement Society. The best-known VIS activity was city beautification creating “oases of green in the brown desert”. In 1904, they purchased the property on both sides of the river for $1. This was the true beginning of the greenbelt.
Due to the leadership of Mayor Joseph Clark, a larger power plant was built in 1910 resulting in the creation of the island as we know it today. The Sportsmen’s Association built a fishery and continued improving the park area in 1923. By the summer of 1934, hundreds of people were visiting the island each day.
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Fast forward to the 1980s when the Idaho Falls Rotary Club started formal plans for the development of the current greenbelt. In 1991, the Rotary Club built the current Taylor Bridge replica, blasted out rocks, rerouted water channels, planted new trees and added another set of stairs. These activities led up to the big push in 2011 when the Friendship Garden was born.
In 2011, the Sister City Association, Bonneville County Master Gardeners, and local volunteers decided to build a Japanese Friendship Garden on the island, formerly known as Sportsmen’s Park. This garden commemorated the 30th anniversary of Idaho Falls’ association with its Japanese sister city, Tokai Mura. The beautiful stone lantern in the garden was given to Idaho Falls by Tokai Mura in the early 1980’s. Due to the destructive and deadly earthquake and tsunami that occurred in Japan in March 2011, the Friendship Garden also became a tribute to the victims of that tragedy.
New work began in May 2011, with volunteers reconstructing the wooden steps, clearing brush and removing diseased trees. Funding came from, and continues to come from, grants and donations, both public and private. Most of the plants came from the gardens of the volunteers. Local nurseries and garden stores also donated plants or needed items.
In 2012, the Civitans, built a platform over the old fish hatchery. Local business groups helped in the effort by clearing brush and tree stumps from the hillside, raking, and clearing the area of debris. Hotsy, a local cleaning service, removed years of graffiti and paint from the rocks and piers. By 2014 the Pavilion was built, and the “Adopt a Brick” fundraising campaign began. Continued work included building the bamboo fence (2016), adding aggregate walkways and paths (2017) and creating the “Mountain” landscape in front of the Pavilion and completing the Zen Garden.
Then Covid changed the world, including the garden. Volunteers did maintenance, but new projects stopped until 2021. The Japanese Friendship Garden is primarily funded with private donations and maintained by volunteers. Interested in joining us? Contact Judy Seydel via
The post How the Idaho Falls Friendship Garden was formed and became a popular gathering place appeared first on East Idaho News.

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