Editorial: Octogenarians For Whitewater

I clearly detect a note of enthusiasm in his voice. I’m asking him what he thinks of the proposed whitewater skills park near the Sandifur Bridge. I find this curious because the man I am speaking to, a friendly fellow and long-time Spokane resident named Harold, is 89 years old, and, no offense sir, but it appears that his best days of whitewater kayaking are in the rearview mirror.

“I want to see that [area] developed into a park so more people can use it,” Harold says. I am doorbelling for my City Council campaign in the West Hills neighborhood, which is just above People’s Park. I love going door-to-door because I get a chance to meet folks like Harold and his wife that I would never meet otherwise. I’m a big supporter of the whitewater park but I’m surprised to hear that Harold is too.

It all has to do with the area just before the Latah Creek and Spokane River known as People’s Park. Harold is the first person I’ve ever met that actually used to live there. According to Harold, he owned five lots and several houses there until he was forced to sell them all and see them bulldozed to make way for Expo ’74. At the time, he claims, he was told the land was needed for a new park. That park development never quite materialized and People’s Park has been mostly known for partying, illegal camping, cruising, and nude sunbathing in the 40-years since. The Sandifur Bridge changed that equation dramatically a few years ago, and now, while the old uses persist, there are more hikers, anglers, families, and dog owners in addition. If you walk the park, which is also an important historical gathering point for local tribes, you can still see traces of the old neighborhood.

People’s Park in it’s current state of reclaimed nature is very beautiful and needs no development itself, but anything that would bring more legitimate users to experience it, including a new whitewater park, would be a good thing.

I thank Harold for this excellent piece of history. Thanks for the reminder that a wide variety of folks have made sacrifices to help preserve the Great Gorge area of the Spokane River, something we can honor by developing it in a smart way so that people can live near it and experience, yet still protect and conserve it.

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