I can’t blame Heidi for wanting to leave after the second or third homeless camper crosses paths with us in People’s Park. If it was just us two here on a weekend bike ride that would be one thing, but we’ve got the kids today and they like to go exploring. She worries they might round a corner in the maze of trails that snake beneath the wild apple trees and stumble upon, well, who-knows-what.
She has a point. When I worked People’s Park for the Annual Spokane River Clean-Up I came across multiple condom wrappers, underwear, and every sort of alcohol container known to man. I’ve seen gnarly, naked, middle-aged butts down here and clothed ones that looked less friendly.
But I love People’s Park so much that I can’t keep away from it-and I want the kids to be able to love it too. When I grew up it seemed like there was a lot more wilderness on the edge of the city than there is now. That makes People’s-an amazingly wild site a minute west of Downtown Spokane-an even a stronger draw for me now. Here you see wildflowers and wildlife woven together in a network of bent over trees and bushes that form little nooks along the river. Trails snake between these spots and what makes them perfect for illicit activities also makes them a perfect place for kids to play.
While there are a couple roads that might date back to the early 20th century, when much of the park had working-class housing on it, other trails surely date back further, when the park was solely the dominion of the local tribes-a sacred gathering place where they could fish for salmon of outlandish proportions before dams cut off the runs.
I’m pretty sure I can convince Heidi to come back here with the kids, maybe on a Sunday morning when the activity level at the park is low. The homeless campers mostly want to be left alone. As for folks doing other things, all I can say is that if the sound of a two-year-old squealing at the top of her lungs at the sight of a snail is a buzzkill for you, well, tough luck.