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Washington Voices

Tour opens new view of region

Thu., Dec. 10, 2009

As someone who has lived most of her life in the Spokane area, I consider myself quite familiar with the city and all its amenities. But when an invitation crossed my desk to see Spokane through a visitor’s eyes, I was intrigued.

The CVB (Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau) offers a four-hour class to train Certified Tourism Ambassadors (CTAs). The class, part of a nationally recognized program, educates frontline hospitality employees and volunteers by providing information about the region’s attractions, history and assets. “More than 400 people have completed the program,” said Gina Mauro, visitor services manager for the CVB.

Recently, the CVB sponsored a bus tour of the city for the latest crop of Certified Tourism Ambassadors. Though, I’m no CTA, I am a CLS (Columnist Looking for Stories) so I signed up for the four-hour tour.

Hotel and airport employees chatted with museum workers and Lilac Festival volunteers as the bus slowly filled. Scott Shellman and Wendi Haught of Framework Meetings and Destinations served as skipper and first mate.

Though the sleek tour bus offered more comfort than a yellow school bus, the gathering still had a festive field trip atmosphere. In fact, managing a group of 32 adults appeared to be almost as challenging as wrangling a load of fourth-graders. But Shellman and Haught were up to the task.

As we rolled out of the Red Lion River Inn parking lot, Haught reminded us of our tight schedule. We’d only be sampling a fraction of our city’s fun and beauty.

Through the bus windows, we glimpsed the historic magnificence of the homes that border High Drive in south Spokane. As Haught rattled off architectural trivia, she suddenly paused, pointed out the window and asked, “How often do you see that?” We craned our necks to see a man puttering across his yard on a riding lawn mower.

I didn’t know what to say. I felt it would be rude to point out that many of us had seen such a sight before. But then Shellman interjected, “That’s John Stockton mowing his lawn!”

Gasps went through the bus as we all watched the retired NBA star cut his grass. Nothing like starting a tour with a celebrity sighting.

The bus parked on Cliff Drive and we clambered out to see the panorama of Spokane beneath us. Many of us have fond memories of this spot that don’t necessarily involve the view. Alas, boulders now block car access to one of the city’s best-known make-out spots.

From there we drove through Manito Park and I learned that what I’ve always called the Duck Pond is actually the Mirror Pond. Even on a gray November afternoon, the 90-acre park is a thing of quiet beauty.

We left Manito behind and drove through downtown Spokane. Haught said, “I have two words for you when we drive through the downtown corridor – look up!” She believes Spokane has some of the most beautiful multistory buildings she’s seen.

In Browne’s Addition, the oldest neighborhood in the Northwest, we made another stop; the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. We were told we only had time for a scant 15-minute glimpse. Since I can easily spend 15 minutes in just the lobby, I was glad I’d already seen the most recent exhibits.

Alas, the MAC became our bus’s Waterloo, because stragglers quickly put us behind schedule. As we headed back toward downtown, an amazing site greeted us – a gray deer bounded down First Avenue, providing yet another surreal “Spokane” moment. “Well, we certainly are near nature,” someone quipped.

Next on the agenda: a tour of the historic Fox Theater, probably my favorite building in the city. As I gazed at the glittering sunburst on the ceiling and soaked in the opulent aura, I thought of the hundreds of volunteers who worked so hard to preserve this architectural gem. To me, the Fox renovation is a portrait of what a community can do when it pulls together.

As we zipped toward our next destination, Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, Haught rattled off Riverfront Park statistics and held a pop quiz about Spokane history. Shellman kept our tummies happy by handing out Applets and Cotlets candies.

Soon we arrived at the winery located on a bluff overlooking Spokane Valley. Jim van Loben Sels who owns the winery with his winemaker wife, Kristina, greeted us warmly.

The hectic pace of the tour had quieted the group, but as van Loben Sels poured generous tastes of Arbor Crest’s highly-acclaimed Dionysus and Riesling wines, a party atmosphere revived flagging spirits.

In fact, spirits were so rejuvenated, when Haught announced that due to time constraints we didn’t have time to stop at Dry Fly Distilling or Halletts Chocolates, a mutiny of sorts erupted on the bus.

Our guides wisely heeded the disgruntled murmurs and we arrived at Dry Fly in plenty of time to sample their fine spirits. However, some of our group bypassed the distillery and headed straight to Halletts to nibble on Sea Salt or Habanero caramels.

By the time our bus arrived back at the Red Lion Inn, the sun had long since set. I’d learned a lot, and the tour only deepened my conviction that Spokane is a wonderful place to live. Other cities may be larger or trendier, but where else can you see John Stockton mowing his lawn?

Contact Cindy Hval at Her previous columns are available online at

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