Let’s Turn Potential into Pay Dirt

By now you’ve probably heard the news: Spokane made the cover of the September issue of Outside Magazine as #5 in their best outdoor towns list for 2013. It’s definitely something to be proud of and excited about. Recognition like this is good news for the growing number of local recreation and tourism oriented businesses popping up around the region and can help reassure community leaders that investing in parks, land conservation, and recreation infrastructure is a smart economic development move.

Despite all that, I know more than a few Spokanites who have mixed feelings about this new found fame. For those of us who enjoy the solitude out on the trail that is frequently cited as one of the benefits  of living here, sharing our little secret with a national audience can understandably cause some people to get a little twitchy.

We are unbelievably fortunate to be surrounded by so many exceptional recreation opportunities without having to fight crowds or pay an arm and a leg to live here and enjoy them. But let’s face it. Most of the trails, crags, rivers, and lakes here in the Inland Northwest aren’t suffering from too much love but not enough!

Trails and natural areas that don’t get used get abused. For the past three years, I’ve lived a few blocks from the river near downtown Spokane, and it’s been troubling to watch the disrespect and neglect of the incredible trails and park lands that sprawl west from the city core all the way to Riverside State Park. More people out there using and appreciating these places would make a big difference.

Shallan and I had a chance recently to visit Park City, Utah – Outside Magazine’s best outdoor town pick this year – to explore the area and get some mountain biking in between sessions at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City. Spokane and Park City couldn’t be more different in so many ways, but both places have a tremendous amount of recreation opportunities.

I expected the trails around Park City to be crowded, and the main paved trails and popular dirt trails right out of town were chock full of all sorts of people from every age group and fitness level imaginable. It was nice to see so many everyday people outside walking, biking and having a good time on the exceptionally maintained and signed trail system.  It got even better, though, as we pedaled further from the trailhead.  We rode fun and flowy trails through gorgeous oak, aspen, and sage for several hours on a beautiful Saturday evening without running into another person, pile of trash, or neglected stretch of trail. I’d take Spokane over Park City any day, but there are a few things we could learn from Outside’s #1.

I definitely don’t want to see Spokane over-run with Subaru loads of refugees from other outdoor towns like Bend, Bellingham or Bozeman looking for the next, best place, but a little bit of recognition may be just the inspiration we need to turn potential into pay dirt.

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