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Blazing a trail

Christina Balcom and her children, from left, Kyleigh, 5, Jesiah, 6, and Dawson, 2, walk on a trail near their neighborhood along Hatch Road. 
 (no photographer / The Spokesman-Review)
Christina Balcom and her children, from left, Kyleigh, 5, Jesiah, 6, and Dawson, 2, walk on a trail near their neighborhood along Hatch Road. (no photographer / The Spokesman-Review)

A decade-old vision for building pedestrian trails northward from the Little Spokane River is becoming a miles-long reality this summer with construction of key trail segments along Little Spokane Drive, Midway Road and Hatch Road.

When completed in coming weeks, the work will link streamside paths along Little Spokane Drive with Spokane County’s North Side aquatics center on Hatch Road.

“I see the trail system as a linear park,” said Tina Wynecoop, a member of the Friends of the Little Spokane River Valley and one of the volunteers who has been working on trail development.

The Friends’ success so far shows how effective a grass-roots organization can be in bringing neighborhood improvements.

Early portions of the trail along the river were built almost solely through volunteer efforts.

The five miles of trails that will have been laid down through this summer are just a fraction of the goal of a 25-mile trail system along and north of Little Spokane River. The idea is to link parks, open spaces, homes, churches, planned shopping areas and public facilities such as schools.

At the heart of the work this summer is a project adding a segment from a year-old replacement span across the Little Spokane River to the vicinity of Midway Elementary School. Part of the trail will wind up a hill along a housing development on Midway Road and connect with existing sidewalk closer to Hatch Road.

That work caused concern in the neighborhood last week when a contractor took down about 30 pine trees, Wynecoop said. The tree removal was not sought by the Friends organization, and it came as a surprise to the group, which planned to ask the county why the trees were logged, she said.

Also, construction is under way to fill gaps in a combination sidewalk and trail along Hatch Road from Midway Elementary to the county’s aquatics center.

A combination of local and state transportation funds have been committed to the Hatch Road work at a total of $379,000.

Pat Harper, engineering administrator for Spokane County, said the county is working with the Spokane Regional Transportation Council to identify future potential grants from federal transportation sources to continue building trails in the area.

The breakthrough came several years ago when volunteers with the Friends organization argued successfully to include a trail master plan in the county’s comprehensive land-use plan. That blueprint became the basis for seeking trail contributions from developers when they build new subdivisions, and for seeking transportation grants.

“They are a very industrious group,” Harper said of the Friends organization.

Already, the trail is drawing devotees, such as the Balcom family.

“I love it. It’s very convenient,” said Christina Balcom, who lives in a subdivision along Hatch Road near the aquatics center. She and her family were out on the trail one day last week.

“We pretty much use it every day,” she said while being joined by husband Chris and children Jesiah, 6, Kyleigh, 5, and Dawson, 2.

Wynecoop said the trail development has been promoted through a corps of about 15 Friends volunteers out of the organization’s 90 household memberships.

The Friends several years ago received a planning grant for rivers, trails and conservation areas through the National Park Service and a local private grant from the New Priorities Foundation in Spokane, she said.

Harla Jean Biever of the Friends group said Spokane County engineers have been “extremely cooperative.”

Also, she credited Martha Schaefer, Jim Ellis and Lance Pounder of the Friends organization for their volunteer efforts on the trail.

REI in Spokane donated money to pay for signs marking completed and future portions of the trail radiating away from Little Spokane Drive along Hatch, Midway, Dartford, Wandermere, Colbert, Golden, Pine Needle and Saddle Hill roads among other streets.

Residents of the area should look for the signs, Wynecoop said. “If they see a sign with no trail, they might want to volunteer to bring it to fruition.”