February 21, 2010 in City

Little-known stream could become new park water feature

Little-known stream could become new park water feature

Speed Fitzhugh, Spokane River license manager for Avista, checks the stream flowing under the old YMCA.
(Full-size photo)

Map of this story's location

The YMCA sits near a river channel. What’s less known is that a stream flows through the building.

The creek, which is a foot deep or more and changes in width from a few feet to about 20, flows much the length of the building east to west in the Y’s dirt basement.

The flow is one highlight of a tentative Spokane park plan to restore the land if the City Council agrees to buy the property. Park Board members say they want to bring the creek to the surface.

The brisk stream now flows in the dark, and while people can stand in the space, it’s hard to walk because of numerous pipes overhead.

Developer Ron Wells, who wants to turn the YMCA into apartments and office space, said restoring the land isn’t the only way to let the public view the stream. He said after a recent tour of the building that he would work to bring public access to the basement during business hours.

“That’s just incredible,” Wells said after viewing the creek through a small entrance in a basement wall with a flashlight. “That has to be accessible.”

From the late 1800s, Spokane River channels around the falls were dammed, filled and carved to better power mills, float logs and move raw sewage quickly through downtown. In fact, maps from the 1880s indicate that the southwest portion of the Y may sit over a filled-in river channel that originally split Havermale Island in two.

The source of the basement stream does not appear to be documented.

“What I think it is is water leaking from the South Channel,” said Speed Fitzhugh, Spokane River license manager for Avista Utilities, who toured the basement after finding out about the stream from a reporter. “It’s porous. There are probably seeps here and there.”

Other maps hint that it could be the remnant of a stream built to power the Echo Flour Mill, which was built in the 1880s, in part by Samuel Havermale. Photos indicate that the stream survived well into the 20th century and entered the middle channel near the current YMCA.

Bill Youngs, who wrote “The Fair and the Falls,” a book published in 1996 about the transformation of the site, said dates and details about the specific changes to the river can be difficult to find.

“There were so many separate acts of blowing things up and filling things in that there might be some pieces of the puzzle we may never fill in,” he said.

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