OTM: What inspired you to create and start publishing OTM back in 2004?
JS: Outdoor activity was clearly on the rise and didn’t seem to be getting the attention it deserved. Oh, and I needed a job.
OTM: Were you surprised that Spokane finally made it into Outside magazine’s top 10 outdoor town list?
JS: No. It should be there every year! I’ve been agitating for this ever since I started the magazine. I’ve sent copies of OTM to editors at Outside. Mountain Gear owner Paul Fish and I even presented to Greater Spokane Incorporated about why this is was an important thing to pursue. It could be looked at as a pure economic development play.
While a wide variety of individuals and organizations were improving Spokane as an outdoor town, Outside magazine’s criteria for great outdoor towns was evolving as well. There was a new understanding that we can’t all afford to live in Taos, New Mexico or Sun Valley, Idaho. The magazine started including housing affordability as one of the things they looked at. And the local beer scene. I think we excel in both of those categories.
OTM: How do you think we compare to other more well-known and better-branded outdoor recreation meccas?
JS: I’m hopelessly prejudiced in favor of Spokane. There are definitely better-branded outdoor towns out there. Most of them focus on a single aspect: access to skiing, access to water, or access to trails. These places may have a better trail, a better mountain, or a better lake than we do, but very few have all of that. We’re the whole package. Spokane has rock climbing, cross country and downhill skiing, fly-fishing, rafting and kayaking, hiking, bird watching, camping, trail running, swimming, and every kind of cycling minutes from downtown. Without the crowds.
On a Sunday in September, a day that I knew would be the last 90-degree day of the year, I decided at 3:30 pm that I wanted to take the family for one last summer swim in the Spokane River. By 4:30 we were in the water at a beautiful swimming hole in the Spokane Valley, climbing basalt rocks in the river and throwing the Frisbee around. We only saw three other people there the whole time.
OTM: If you could tour Outside’s editors around Spokane and the INW for a week, where would you take them?
JS: To see a wildfire sunset on top of Mt. Spokane. Hike the Kettle Crest Trail. Camp at Upper Priest Lake. Visit Palouse Falls. Mountain Bike the South Hill Bluff. Picnic at Cliff Park. Climb Big Rock. Loop hike Deep Creek canyon. Road bike the Palouse. Road trip the Inland Northwest Ale Trail, especially No-Li, Republic Brewing, and Northern Ales (which isn’t on the official trail but is still great). Labor Day Pow Wow in Wellpinit. Rent a cabin on Bead Lake. Drive Highway 21 to the Keller Ferry. Ride the Centennial Trail to Coeur d’Alene. Play soccer with a view of the falls at Glover Field. Soak at Lolo Hot Springs. Ride the Route of the Hiawatha. Find a wild apple (while fully clothed) in People’s Park. Kayak the Little Spokane River.
OTM: What outdoor recreation, transportation, and park and land conservation projects would you like to see move forward in the next 20 years?
JS: Conservation Futures acquisitions need to keep ramping up. I would love to see new pieces added the South Hill Bluff area. I think it would be great if multiple Beacon Hill properties were all put into Conservation Futures. I would love to see us build the Central City Line and create more bussing options. More public transit means less sprawl and less pressure to develop important local farming resources such as Green Bluff. We could definitely use some smaller dog parks spread throughout the city. It would be great if our entire regional trail system could be unified, signed, maintained, and expanded perhaps with paid non-profit employees. Rossland, Canada has really done a terrific job with their trail system. There are some great benefits to completing the Fish Lake Trail, completing the Dream Trail, fixing the Centennial Trail gaps, and building the U-District bicycle/pedestrian bridge. My dream is to see an urban mountain-bike skills park on the vacant W-SDOT land south of the Hamilton Street Bridge. I want to see us finally build a whitewater park and bring salmon back to the Spokane River. A guy can dream, can’t he?
OTM: What do you think Spokane could do differently to better tap into our outdoor recreation and quality of life potential to make it a serious economic development engine?
JS: We have to get more serious about curbing urban sprawl. The County Commissioners recent expansion of the Urban Growth Area, against the wishes of the City of Spokane, is a disaster for anyone who wants to preserve open space and reduce costs for our citizens. When we spread out urban services to a wider and wider area, it has the same effect as a de-facto tax increase. It always costs more to cover more square miles. I’m glad to hear that the Governor and the Department of Commerce are joining the appeal of this decision. If we can get this problem under control, I think our area will continue to sell itself. It’s hard to keep it a secret.
OTM: You were raised in Spokane. What’s your all-time favorite outdoors Spokane memory that you want to share with OTM readers?
JS: Kayaking Lake Sacheen and seeing a blue heron when my wife was pregnant with our first child. We each had our own kayaks, but she got pretty tired part way through. We were having so much fun that I forgot that exercise is a bit tougher when you’ve got a baby inside you! We hooked the kayaks together and I towed her back home as the sun went down. Fade-to-black. Cue the music.