Saving Liberty Lake

Long before Spokane received any permanent settlers, Etienne Eduard Laliberte (later Steve Liberty) homesteaded the west side of Liberty Lake in 1871. The area surrounding the marsh was developed into a cattle ranch. The rancher diverted Liberty Creek (originally named Kalez) into a hand-dug channel along the eastern edge of the marsh. Later the creek was diverted into another hand-dug channel along the western edge. Over the years, the lake was loved and enjoyed by many people throughout the region. In fact, it was loved just a little too much.

From 1900 through 1924, Liberty Lake featured several dancehalls, hotels, and resorts. The new electric trainline delivered scores of people from Spokane and Cheney. In 1940, Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) introduced large mouth bass and carp. Soon after, WDFW introduced perch, two species of sunfish, small mouth bass, crappie and bullhead. But these non-native fish, alongside several underground septic issues, sent Liberty Lake into a tailspin. Those elements combined proved to be the first of many epic failures.

Admittedly, hindsight is 20/20. There are over a dozen reasons why we shouldn’t judge the past based on modern knowledge. But it’s worth mentioning that WDFW poisoned the lake with toxaphene in 1965 to overcome some fish problems. When this treatment failed, the lake was poisoned several more times to combat the algae blooms and decaying aquatic weeds. Rotenone poisoning was the popular choice in the early 1970s. Unfortunately, each solution introduced a new problem.

Thankfully, the Liberty Lake Sewer District formed in 1973 by a vote of the residents. Three commissioners were elected: Dennis Ashlock, Art Toreson, and Bill Lancaster. The same year, Washington State University participated in a water quality study of the lake and the creek. Along with a pending sewage collection system, these three events were pivotal in saving Liberty Lake. By 1982, with a wastewater treatment plant completed, the lake showed major signs of improvement. By 1984, the locals reported they could finally see the bottom of the lake again.

Saving Liberty Lake required thousands of other people working together with a common goal. This doesn’t mean it was a seamless process throughout the 1980s. However, reviving the lake did show that it was possible to tackle other major regional projects. For example, Dennis Ashlock was also a charter member of the Centennial Trail Steering Committee, and he labored tirelessly to make the Centennial Trail possible. Ashlock passed away in 1998 at the age of 59, but he will always be honored for his efforts to save Liberty Lake and build the Centennial Trail thanks to the bridge that bears his name at the Islands Trailhead near Plante’s Ferry. Thank you Denny! //

A quick search on the Out There Outdoors website brings up over 100 articles written by Jon Jonckers. He’s been a constant contributor since 2006, and he still enjoys sharing his love for the region with anyone willing to listen.

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