What do my six-year-old daughter and boosters of the Spokane River Whitewater Park have in common? They’re both pretty stubborn. When I was recently teaching my daughter to ski she took a good tumble and got a face full of snow. Her cheeks were red, her skis came off and I asked her if she wanted to take a break. Sobbing uncontrollably her answer to me was, “Daddy. I want. To keep. Skiing.”
I think that’s the last five years in a nutshell for the folks from Friends of the Falls and others who have been working to create the state’s first whitewater park in downtown Spokane. No set-back seems to stop them. It’s a great project and they push forward, despite regulatory hurdles from the state, and feds, that are much larger than anyone anticipated. Who would have thought that just putting two piles of natural rock (count them—two) below the low water line and set in place by a little bit of grout would be so complicated? The project also includes some shaping to a section of the river bank that would provide erosion control and a place for boats to put in, as well as a modest parking lot expansion, and re-planting native vegetation, but the two features in the river is where most of the regulatory concerns come from.
Recently I went to a meeting on the whitewater park that was attended by over 20 people of various concerns and backgrounds. I was worried it would be a verbal slugfest of anglers versus kayakers. Far from it. We had a great, and thoughtful discussion of the concerns and challenges the project faces. There was a fascinating presentation about the river’s native redband trout. I learned: 1) these beautiful fish are unique to this area, 2) they are not endangered, 3) they have over 50 potential spawning locations in lower Spokane River, 4) a couple of which are near the whitewater park site, and 5) man-made objects like the bridge pylons may have helped create good spawning areas.
The City Parks department is now taking the lead on commissioning an Environmental Impact Statement for the project. I left the meeting hopeful that this will uncover a way forward that can be good for the fish and good for the park. But if the project still hits a permitting brick wall it won’t be because supporters haven’t been stubborn enough.