Spokane’s Meet Me at the River summer trip program is gearing up for the fifth year, offering the public a convenient opportunity to connect with the entire length of the Spokane River, one segment at a time.
Trips, which start next week and run into September, are organized by the Spokane River Forum and supported by local river guides and other groups and agenices.
Whitewater rafting trips guided by ROW Adventures and FLOW Adventures are scheduled first to take advantage of rapids while they’re still frothing with spring runoff.
As the river settles and some rapids become too rocky to float, trips spread out mostly into casual flatwater kayaking trips covering gentler stretches of the 112-mile river.
“People who have lived in Spokane for 20 or 30 years come on these trips and tell us they can’t believe how little they knew about this incredible resource running through their hometown,” said Andy Dunau, the forum’s executive director.
More than 550 people have completed more than 1,000 passenger trips through the budget-priced Meet Me at the River series. “Most participants come back to do a second or third trip,” Dunau said.
So far, 19 participants have done enough trips to see the entire river, he said. That’s an elite group. “We know of only a couple dozen people who have floated all 112 miles,” he said.
Every trip includes a short presentation by somebody with expertise in a facet of the river, such as water quality, fisheries or shoreline management.
“The idea is to help people connect the river with their daily lives,” Dunau said.
One raft trip last year stopped for a guided tour of the Spokane sewage treatment facility.
A moonlight wine-and-cheese paddle might include an on-water discussion of wildlife and natural features.
An overnight trip features a salmon cookout and stories by members of the Spokane Tribe.
“We have a couple of trips specifically for teachers that will focus on the aquifer, with a tour of the new water resources center off Freya before floating the river to where the aquifer feeds the river,” Dunau said. “Most people say they’ve been on the Centennial Trail or in Riverfront Park many times, but they found a river they’d never experienced when they got into a raft or kayak,” he said.
“People who do more than one trip appreciate the river’s beauty and the diversity as it changes character from the Valley, into town, through the gorge and down toward Lake Roosevelt.”
People are impressed at how clear the river is during summer, he said. “And they’re often amazed to be on a stretch of the river and realize they don’t know where they are – even if they’re in town.”
The stretch from Upriver Dam downstream to Riverfront Park features areas with high banks or tall willows. “It’s not until you come around a bend to Gonzaga (University) that you realize you’re heading into downtown,” he said.
Outfitters guide rafts of clients through the expert runs at the Bowl and Pitcher and Devil’s Toenail rapids of Riverside State Park. But clients paddle their own kayaks during summer flatwater trips when the water is warm and forgiving.
“People stay dry on those trips with the exception of the one in the Valley (through Sullivan Rapids). You’re going to get splashed on that one, and people who opt for that trip love it.”
The forum’s goal is to get more people to assume ownership of the river and realize its role in the community, Dunau said.
“It delivers a lot to us. How many outdoor resources offer the public so much, and it’s all free?”