For many, Memorial Day weekend signals the start of summer camping or other outdoor pursuits. One cluster of out-of-town visitors and Spokane residents, however, stuck around for a voyage through the streets and history of the Lilac City.
The nine sightseers joined the throngs peering from bridges at the roaring Spokane River Sunday afternoon. But they didn’t just stop to soak up panoramas of pounding water or bustling Riverfront Park.
Earlier that day, they had climbed aboard the Spokane City Tours bus for a guided, 2 ½-hour excursion. They snaked across the river and through downtown, rolled past historic homes in Browne’s Addition and paused on a rocky South Hill bluff for a photo-op.
They even stopped to smell the lilacs.
Started last August, Spokane City Tours is driving into its second season pointing out remnants of local history, from the Age of Elegance to Expo ‘74. It caters to a range of riders: tourists, businesspeople considering relocating, even longtime residents who want to learn a little more about their city.
Sunday’s tour, narrated by owner Susan Bauguss, included all of the above.
For 34-year-old Dan Harvey, who’s considering a move from the Seattle area, it was a unique way to check out the city.
“I guess the architecture in general is pretty cool,” he said.
While other local companies provide “step-on” guides for tour buses, Spokane City Tours is the only regularly scheduled guided bus tour in Spokane, said Margaret Holmberg, group sales manager for the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. It’s “been a while” since the city had such a service, Holmberg said.
And next weekend, coinciding with ArtFest, Bauguss plans to debut 90-minute walking tours of Spokane featuring costumed guides who re-enact the stories of some of Spokane’s early female characters. Tours of Browne’s Addition and downtown will leave from the Carrousel at Riverfront Park.
Recent Whitworth University graduates Eva Glenn and Leah Robin, both 22, took the tour after Glenn learned about it from a friend. They enjoyed anecdotes, such as those about Willie Willey, a clothing-optional folk hero, and viewing structures built by noted architect Kirtland Cutter.
“We just thought it would be fun to find the areas that we were missing in Spokane,” Glenn said, calling it a “fantastic way to get to know the heart of the city.”
Robin added, “I feel everyone should know everything they can about the city they live in.”
Operating a small tour company has its challenges, Bauguss has discovered. Initially she offered tours for foreign visitors, but that “really didn’t boom,” leading to her emphasis on city tours for the public.
Bauguss reformatted the city tour to avoid construction on North Spokane streets, and she started earlier in the season this year.
“I found myself the night before tour running around Spokane,” looking for closed roads, she said.
And diesel on the West Coast is approaching $5 a gallon, more than double its cost a year ago, according to federal data.
She’s increased adult bus tour prices from $18 to $29 to compensate, and cut back the number of days tours are offered. Through her company, American Lingo Travel Adventures LLC, Bauguss also provides winery and golf tours and custom group outings, advertising with fliers in local hotel racks.
She employs several part-time drivers and tour guides, many of whom also work for larger companies as step-on guides.
How did she formulate her tour route?
“I think it was mostly the areas that I enjoy, but that people would be really interested in,” said Bauguss, who’s lived here since about 1999. “I just think it’s a fabulous city, and it really deserved having a tour like this.”