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White-water park could affect fish

Mon., June 29, 2009, 7:38 p.m.

A white-water park planned near downtown Spokane has some anglers worried about the park’s possible effect on the river’s native redband trout population.

Redbands – named for a vivid stripe that glows brick red during spawning season – are prized by anglers for their fighting attitude at the end of a fishing line. Despite years of catch-and-release regulations, redbands are in decline in the Spokane River.

Proponents of the $1 million white-water park say the design is fish-friendly, and tout its potential to increase recreation in the Great Gorge area below downtown. Anglers, however, have raised concerns about potential impacts to upstream spawning beds and fish migration. The park would anchor large rocks in the river, creating perpetual waves for kayakers to play in.

Trout Unlimited’s Spokane Falls chapter supports the white-water park concept, but wants assurances that its construction won’t hurt redbands, said Harvey Morrison, chapter president.

“On its face, the white-water park sounds like such a benign thing,” Morrison said. “We do think it’s a great thing … but we’ve got to speak for the fish. We’re fortunate to still have the redbands, considering how badly the river has been abused over the past 100 years.”

Trout Unlimited was among 30-plus entities that recently sent comments on the white-water park to the city of Spokane. Along with state and federal agencies, the city must issue a permit for the project.

Steve Faust, executive director of Friends of the Falls, said his organization has spent many hours with redband advocates, including the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The design has evolved to address fisheries concerns, he said.

The proposed park would no longer span the width of the river. The size was scaled back so that fish could travel unhindered through one-third of the channel, Faust said

The structure itself will create deep, self-scouring pools, which will create cool-water hangouts for fish during the hot summer months, according to the park’s designer, Recreation Engineering and Planning of Boulder, Colo.

“Friends of the Falls does not want to destroy the trout fisheries. Our whole goal is to promote the Great Gorge for the fabulous public resource that it is,” Faust said. “But the area needs to be available to multiple users.”

Drew Mahan, the Spokane manager for River Odysseys West, a rafting company, wrote a letter supporting the park. Exposing people to the river through recreation helps develop advocates, he said.

“The whole ecosystem will see a huge benefit … as more community members develop an appreciation for the river and a desire to see it clean and protected,” Mahan wrote.

Anglers are frequent allies of kayakers, because both need clean, cold water to pursue their sports, noted Mike Petersen, the Lands Council’s executive director, who said he frequently floats that section of the river.

“We all love recreation,” he said, but “I’d like to see the park undergo the scrutiny, because it affects an important fish population.”

In a letter to the city, Karin Divens, area habitat biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said it’s unclear whether redband spawn in the proposed park area, though there may be pockets of suitable spawning habitat. Spawning habitat has been documented upstream of the proposed park.

Plans to remove willows in the river channel are also concerning, Divens wrote. Faust, of Friends of the Falls, said some of the willows would became navigation hazards when the park is built. As part of the mitigation work, willows would be planted in other areas, he said.

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