Editorial: Parks Under Roads

Climber Marty Bland has a dream; An urban public climbing park underneath the old Sunset Highway Bridge.

“You could get a pro-climber to set the holds and have hundreds of routes beneath the arches at a variety of grades,” says Bland. “A lot of cities are doing stuff like that these days.”

He’s right. Seattle now has the I-5 Colonade Mountain Bike Park (www.bbtc.org/colonnade), a new model for urban recreation. Utilizing vacant space underneath the I-5 overpass, Seattle’s Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club has donated countless man-hours and raised $160,000 towards a goal of $340,000 for completing the most ambitious urban bike park in the country.

Could urban-skills parks happen under freeways and bridges in Spokane? It’s been tried once at the Under the Freeway Skate Park.

Was that park successful? I asked Spirit Skateshop owner Steve Sanchez his opinion.

“Can we bomb it and start over?” says Sanchez.

The park, UTF as it’s called, is a great all-weather location but is widely regarded as a missed opportunity by local skaters. “If the park was better and had more traffic with skateboards there would be less room for loitering,” says Sanchez, referring to the UTF reputation for nefarious non-skating activity.

The best way to improve UTF or create new urban-skills parks might be to follow the example of The Fat Tire Trail Riders Club. Their work at Camp Sekani and Beacon Hill is not under a bridge or freeway, but it shows what can be done when local enthusiasts band together, volunteer labor, solicit donations (see news story page 9)-and work with the Parks Department. Friends of the Falls and the Whitewater Park Steering Committee are another great example. Both groups have a great start but both still need more help in money and volunteers.

The benefits of urban recreation facilities such as these are hard to ignore. They encourage kids to recreate, they drive tourist traffic, they provide a lot of user bang for the buck, and, if they are under major roadways, parks can be all-weather facilities.

There are locations under I-90 downtown, under the Hamilton Street Bridge west of Liberty Park, and under the Maple St. Bridge that all might make good locations. To turn park dreams into reality requires passion, people, and an understanding that parks take years not months to create. Are we up for the challenge?


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