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Editorial: Whitewater park offers boatload of benefits

The Spokane River has been pouring through the scenic gorge below Monroe Street for eons. It’ll take at least another year to add a whitewater park.

It still appears the wait will be worth it.

On Friday, a 30-day public comment period ends with respect to shoreline and floodplain permits needed for the proposed park to proceed. Even if the last day passes as calmly as the preceding 29 have, there will be more regulatory channels to navigate, so it will be at least next summer before the work can begin.

At one point, the plan was to have the kayaking facility operating by last October. That target was pushed back to October 2009. Now it’s slipped again.

More important than the date, however, is the persistence that Friends of the Falls, the effort’s primary champion, has shown to keep the concept on track. The organization has raised almost the entire $1.2 million estimated cost – including $530,000 in state funding a couple of years ago – and it has been diligent about making the project environmentally and culturally palatable.

The group has worked with the Spokane Tribe of Indians, in whose traditional territory the park will be, to address concerns about sensitive sites. The group altered the park’s plan to preserve a 70-foot-wide channel for fish passage on the north portion of the river.

Through it all, Friends of the Falls’ Steve Faust says the plan is as sound as ever, maybe even better.

From a community standpoint, a whitewater park is an appealing idea, and not just for area kayakers.

Such a feature, five minutes from downtown, will be a tourism and convention attraction for other cities to envy.

And the civic presence it lures to the area near the Sandifur Memorial Bridge could discourage some of the illicit drug and sex activities that trouble nearby High Bridge Park.

The whitewater park will enhance outdoor recreation for Spokane-area residents, but it also promises to bolster economic development and social betterment.

So far, advocates for this exciting proposal have handled the regulatory rapids well. Ideally, the remainder of the permitting run will be a more relaxing glide.

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