It didn’t take Mike Sprecher long to get his feet wet as the new state parks ranger for the Little Spokane River Natural Area.
In February, shortly after Riverside State Park officials assigned him to the job, the Little Spokane overflowed its banks several times, flooding and making the river impassable to canoeists for the first time in memory.
The new ranger got his feet wet, so to speak, clearing downed trees from the river channel.
Early in the summer, Sprecher, a Spokane native, faced another bizarre scene. A local FM rock music station promoted a scavenger hunt with a clue that lured dozens of people to prowl and dig in a portion of the natural area closed to protect nesting blue herons.
“It was the very worst time for people to be in there,” he said. “I couldn’t believe a local radio station would do something so potentially damaging to wildlife.”
Most recently, he worked with other state parks employees to hand-cut noxious weeds that are infiltrating the natural area and then dab the stalks with herbicides.
“Purple loosestrife grows tall, blooms and looks pretty to a lot of people,” he said. “But it crowds out natural vegetation and eventually moves in to choke the river system.”
Three years of hand-pulling has been ineffective, he said. Nothing will work well unless private landowners upstream give attention to the problem.
No surveys show exactly how many people use the natural area’s trails or float the river, but it’s clear to Sprecher that use is growing.
“The trailhead parking areas are full on any summer weekend,” he said.
His biggest headaches come from people who bring dogs and alcohol or who insist on going off-trail in the natural area.
“People going off-trail are disturbing wildlife and causing erosion, especially at the Painted Rocks,” he said.
“We’re issuing more and more citations for people bringing alcoholic beverages and pets into the natural area. Rules are stricter in the natural area and violations there are legally more serious than violations in the rest of Riverside State Park,” he said. “They pack a bigger fine.”
Fines range up to $95 for violations, such as riding mountain bikes on natural area trails between St. George’s School and Highway 291.
Sprecher has helped canoeists and other groups organize river cleanups and other conservation chores.
Volunteers are always welcome, he said. Info: 456-3964.
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