December 28, 1997 in City

Beauty Makes Area What It Is, So Preserve It

By The Spokesman-Review

Look around you.

What you are seeing this December is unusual.

El Nino has temporarily lifted the concrete fog over the Inland Northwest.

Blue skies and warmer temperatures have made both November and now December remarkably mild.

As a result, the region’s natural beauty has remained more visible than usual.

A walk through Riverfront Park reveals reflections of December sunlight on the Spokane Falls.

Winter bicyclists may pedal right to the Post Falls via the Centennial Trail in Idaho.

Distant vistas of the Dishman Hills, scenic views along the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, clear outlines of Mount Spokane can be enjoyed while driving over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house for dinner.

The bald eagles are back at Wolf Lodge Bay. Their cousins are perched all along the Spokane River clear to Nine Mile Falls.

This rare December break in the clouds should remind us of a truth we know: the natural environment is our greatest asset.

A Nordstrom in Spokane and a floating golf green in Coeur d’Alene represent the creative hands of commerce. But neither golf nor the half-yearly sale truly distinguish our region from the rest.

What we enjoy here is remarkable access to the natural world in one of the most beautiful places in America.

How fitting, then, that just before Christmas the city of Spokane settled a dispute with developers Steve and Leslie Ronald who had wanted to build a condominium tower on the banks of the Spokane River gorge downtown.

The condos would have been nice for the few who would have lived there.

But they would have blocked the stunning public view from the downtown Spokane main library.

And, perhaps more important, the new condos would have intruded into the deepest part of the Spokane River gorge in a way no other development has done.

That example would not have been good at this time.

Public access to the scenic wonders of our region will become only more important to our quality of life in coming years.

Important because more and more people are on their way here.

Spokane Horizons planning group projects another 50,000 residents will move to the Spokane metro area in the next decade or so.

In Idaho, already one of the top three fastest-growing states in the country, the Rathdrum Prairie border towns are exploding. Post Falls has grown 96 percent since 1990, Rathdrum has grown by 70 percent and Hayden has grown by 62 percent.

Many of these people are coming here because of the scenery. They want access to green forests, clear streams, pristine lakes.

They want clear air, no traffic, and a good place to camp.

Because they are coming in such numbers, the risk grows that the very things that make this a livable place will be degraded.

Stopping growth or in-migration isn’t feasible. If the jobs are here, if the housing prices are low, if the word spreads that this is a good place to be, people will come.

What can be directed, however, is the placement of the people.

What can be developed are safeguards to shield the best of our scenic treasures from exploitation.

Irreplaceable natural vistas need protection. Major new developments should be located to provide public access (trails, guided tours, waterways) rather than be locked behind gates.

The Centennial Trail offers tremendous access to waterways.

The new developments across from Gonzaga University offer good access to nature without closing the river off to the public.

The same sort of balance needs to be struck in future waterfront and mountainside projects.

These issues aren’t growth vs. no-growth issues.

At stake is preservation of the very things people who live here, and people who plan to move here, hope to find.

Again, look around this December.

What you see in nature is what makes this place.

In 1998 and beyond, let’s not muck it up.

, DataTimes MEMO: Chris Peck is the editor of The Spokesman-Review. His column appears each Sunday on Perspective.

Chris Peck is the editor of The Spokesman-Review. His column appears each Sunday on Perspective.

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