This may be the best summer to get into the flow of the Spokane River. Clubs, groups, businesses and agencies are joining as stewards of the river’s health as well as keeping it safe and available for river rats and newbies alike.
The Spokesman-Review recently has covered a range of issues such as river closures and hazards at Barker Road bridge construction, Avista agreeing to keep water running through downtown and over the falls, fishermen seeking more boat access to the river, plans for wastewater treatment, cleanup of toxic mining waste and volunteers who conduct river rescues.
Here’s a sampling of six ways to get your feet wet in river fun and issues.
1. EVENT: Classic paddling
The Spokane River Canoe Classic – a name that’s somewhat misleading now that much of the field is comprised of kayaks – sparks a bloom of colorful vessels on a course that will run 6 miles downriver this year.
Participants traditionally come with racing craft to budget boats that may venture out from under the back deck only once a season. New this year is a postrace barbecue.
The event has become a Father’s Day tradition for some families. The best prizes are given in a postrace drawing that gives the lily dippers the same chances as the master paddlers to win.
This year’s course will run from Post Falls to Harvard Road at Liberty Lake. The 13-mile marathon option for the race will not be offered this year because of hazards at the Barker Bridge construction site, said John Schwartz of Mountain Gear, the race sponsor. The decision was made Tuesday.
When: Next Sunday, 9 a.m.
Where: Starting from Corbin Park in Post Falls, ending at Harvard Road.
Cost: $20 per person. Preregister: www.mountaingear.com/cc/
Info: Mountain Gear, 325-9000.
2. EXPEDITIONS: Meet me at the river
This is a brilliant concept and not-to-be missed opportunity to become intimate with all or a portion of the 111 miles of the Spokane River, past and present.
Sign up for guided trips on short segments of the river. For example, take in the romance of a moonlight paddle punctuated with wine and cheese, or go for a more vigorous paddle in a rented kayak from Plantes Ferry Park to downtown.
Those who want it all can progress from Lake Coeur d’Alene downstream to the confluence with the Columbia River near Fort Spokane.
“This is the most fun thing we do,” said Andy Dunau, executive director of the Spokane River Forum, which coordinates the expeditions.
The program goes beyond river travel by providing each trip with an expert in a portion of the river, such as a biologist, historian, ecologist or an Indian tribal member. Obtaining an expedition passports opens the door to tours of city water facilities, hydro-power dams, wastewater treatment plants as well as businesses and other integral facets of the river.
Some trips are designed for adults, some for groups older than 16 and others are for families with kids older than 12.
The series of trips, already under way, runs through September with the help of river companies, Spokane Parks and Recreation Department and other groups. The whitewater rafting trips already are filled, but there’s still room to preregister for many options, including family raft trips and adult kayak paddles on moving and flatwater portions of the river.
When: Now through Oct. 3
Cost: $20 per trip (join Spokane River Forum and get 50 percent discount)
Preregistration required: www.spokaneriver.net
Info: Spokane River Forum, 535-7084.
3. CLASS: Learn to kayak
Adapting to the boom in interest for flatwater kayaking, the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club is offering two levels of instruction this summer to help people who already have boats improve their on-the-water skills.
New this year is a three-hour class for paddlers with recreational and inflatable kayaks. The class is set for Tuesday on the Spokane River at Boulder Beach. Another complete class will be offered June 23. Learn techniques that can increase paddling efficiency up to 50 percent while reducing body stress. Safe boating skills are emphasized.
A more comprehensive three-day class for sea-kayakers is scheduled for July 15, 18, 19.
Perhaps the best part about these club courses: You meet fellow kayakers and tap into new places to paddle.
•For Tuesday recreational kayak classes, call Dennis Andrew 434-9495, Jerry Cesaratto 796-4211, Jerry or Marlene Williams 328-3957. Cost: free for club members (membership $25 a year).
•For July sea-kayaking class, contact Tim Ahern, 244-8851, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Cost: $50 per person.
4. WATCHDOG: Keep it legal
A new watchdog program is being launched this spring to grace the Spokane River with environmental oversight and the muscle of legal action.
Center For Justice attorney Rick Eichstaedt has spearheaded a Riverkeeper project for the Spokane River. Citizen groups can be helpful in the effort, he said.
One of the first requirements of the international Waterkeepers Alliance is that a Riverkeeper must have a boat. “We’ll probably have a raft and a kayak to maintain the required on-the-ground, on-the-water presence,” he said, citing three primary strategies for the project:
•Looking for violations, such as unlawful discharges and development as well as other river impacts that aren’t well understood, such as sources of industrial storm water runoff.
•Educating the public, industries and elected officials about their responsibilities, impacts to the river and what laws are available to protect the river.
•Bringing citizen lawsuits to enforce environmental laws when other avenues fail.
A new program at Gonzaga’s Law School will be a boon to the Riverkeeper, Eichstaedt said. Attorney Mike Chappel is organizing the school’s first Environmental Law Clinic, which could provide students to deal with river issues.
“Mike is well-versed with the international Waterkeeper Alliance, having represented 13 keepers in California,” Eichstaedt said. “There’s plenty to keep an eye on, especially given the toxic metals in the river’s upper watershed.
“We’ll be looking for other outreach. For example, Spokane Community College has a two-year water quality technician program that might be a fit to do water sampling.”
The Spokane Riverkeeper will be the third in the region, along with watchdogs in the Silver Valley and Lake Pend Oreille.
Info: www.waterkeeper.org and http://cforjustice.org
5. VISIT: Fur trade encampment
History buffs will don buckskins and ram powder down their muzzleloaders while creating an authentic 1810-1812-era rendezvous for visitors to enjoy Saturday and next Sunday at Riverside State Park.
The living history fur trade encampment will be open to visitors from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. both days at the Spokane House Interpretive Center off Highway 291.
Different activities are planned every hour, raging from games to demonstrations and storytelling. See how fur trading took place, how to build fires without matches, how bark canoes are made and the effectiveness of black-powder firearms.
Info: (509) 465-5064
6. COMMENT: Whitewater park plans
Spokane’s Planning Department is taking written comments through June 26 before issuing shoreline and floodplain-related permits required for building a whitewater boating park in the Spokane River a mile downstream of the Spokane Falls and adjacent to the Sandifur Bridge.
Parks and Recreation Department say the whitewater park plans call for a U-shaped, in-stream flow structure to be constructed with boulders on the river bottom.
Plans also call for improvements on both banks of the river, including a parking area, trails and a restroom on the south bank, plus a picnic area and shelter on the north bank.
The Friends of the Falls citizen group announced in 2007 it had raised $225,000 for the design. In addition, the project is funded by a $400,000 grant from the 2005 state legislature and a $530,000 grant from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
Issues about the original design were raised by Washington Fish and Wildlife Department and Trout Unlimited, since the park would be near an important trout spawning area and fish passage is required.
However, most of the meetings with designers and state groups and agencies on the potential conflicts have been in sessions not open to the public or the press.
Info: www.friendsofthefalls.org /