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River park plans get big boost from gift

Wed., June 20, 2007

Friends of the Falls, a nonprofit organization working toward opening a whitewater park on the Spokane River near downtown, announced Tuesday that it has reached its fundraising goal and expects construction of the park to begin next summer.

“We have the funding we need to get going,” said Steve Faust, executive director of Friends of the Falls.

A $40,000 donation from Teck Cominco American brought the total raised to $1.1 million, allowing Friends of the Falls to close its capital campaign and meet one of two requirements for the release of a $400,000 state grant.

Friends of the Falls must also make an agreement with the city of Spokane for development of the facility, which Faust said should be done by next week.

Teck Cominco is a mining company based in Vancouver, B.C., with a regional office in Spokane.

The company is considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be a major source of historic river pollution on the Columbia River and is being sued by the Colville Confederated Tribes to pay for river cleanup.

Friends of the Falls has been raising money for the whitewater park project since 2006. Individuals donated about $50,000 of the $225,000 the organization sought for the design, permits and construction of the park.

In addition, the project received $530,000 granted to the city of Spokane from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.

The next phases will require several permits. A shoreline permit will take the longest, but Faust said the group expects to have it in time to start construction next summer, when the river’s water flow is at its lowest point.

Officials expect to have the park completed by the fall of 2008.

“This is the first of the gorge master plan projects to come to fruition,” said Mike Stone, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, referring to 15 priority projects in the Great Spokane River Gorge Strategic Master Plan, adopted by Friends of the Falls and other groups in 2005.

The plan was inspired by visions for the river gorge near downtown drawn up by the Olmsted brothers a century ago.

The whitewater park will eventually become part of the City Parks Department. Park officials are working with neighboring communities to implement park features along the banks of the river.

The whitewater park project calls for the eventual construction of additional parking, landscaping and a visitor’s center that would be located on the south bank of the river at Clarke and Riverside avenues. Waves and drops in the river will be created by arranging large boulders into two U-shaped structures on the riverbed.

Organizers said the project will shed a positive light on the area and community.

Stone said the creation of a whitewater park on the river just west of downtown Spokane could help drive out some undesirable activities that currently take place there.

Said Faust: “By bringing more people to the area, you bring sunlight to it.”

Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession attended Tuesday’s announcement.

“We couldn’t be more excited about it,” he said.

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