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Little Spokane aflutter

TUESDAY, SEPT. 4, 2007

With the heat of summer behind us, now’s the time to enjoy birding in the Little Spokane River Natural Area. Whether by foot or canoe, it’s one of the best and easy to reach places to go birding in Spokane County. Autumn is no exception.

Riverside State Park manages the 1,353-acre natural area, including the seven-mile stretch along the Little Spokane River. The natural area is an important breeding area for birds, especially for riparian (river’s edge) species, and is involved in the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship bird-banding program .

By foot, you can access the trail at the Painted Rocks parking lot off Rutter Parkway. Native American paintings found on the rocks near the trailhead give the area its name. Open from 6:30 a.m. until dusk, there is a $5 parking fee to help cover trail maintenance costs.

The 7.2 miles of trail (roundtrip) wanders through diverse habitats: wetland, riparian, meadow, forest and cliff. Bring your binoculars and a field guide – there are still plenty of birds to see along the way. You’ll want to plan at least two hours to enjoy this hike, and if it’s a warm day and you’re there close to dusk, bug spray might be necessary. We’d all like to preserve this important ecosystem, so please stay on the trail.

Canoeing or kayaking along the Little Spokane River is a real treat. Calm and quiet, it is ideal for birding. Along your scenic route you will see a variety of songbirds, waterfowl, woodpeckers, raptors and great blue herons. You may also see some critters since the area is a wildlife wonderland.

The six-mile stretch of river meanders quite a bit, so keep an eye out for downed trees, snags and wildlife. And remember, this is a protected natural area, so swimming is not allowed. The goal is to keep this area as undisturbed as possible.

You can access the river at two locations, both of which require a short portage. For a longer trip (recommended), go to the clearly marked parking lot on the St. George’s School Road off Waikiki Road. To cut the trip in half, park at the Painted Rocks parking area mentioned earlier.

Shuttling a car to the take-out point on Nine Mile Road (State Highway 291) is a quick trip down the road. From the first put-in, continue on Waikiki Road to Rutter Parkway. Follow Rutter Parkway to Nine Mile Road. Continue about one mile and turn left onto the paved access road at mile marker 10. The take-out point is a quarter-mile up the road.

Whether on the trail or on the river, the Little Spokane River Natural Area is worth visiting many times throughout the year.

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