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Riverfront Park totem pole gets a makeover

Scott Brunell, a city parks employee, stands in front of the totem pole he  refurbished in Riverfront Park on Thursday.  (Jesse Tinsley)
Scott Brunell, a city parks employee, stands in front of the totem pole he refurbished in Riverfront Park on Thursday. (Jesse Tinsley)

City employee used materials on hand, donated lift to complete repairs

After decades of exposure to the elements, the tattered totem pole in Riverfront Park needed some serious work.

The eagle at the top of the totem was missing its head and one of eight feathers on its wing. Another feather, barely clinging to the wing, blew precariously in the wind. The once-vivid paint was faded and chipped.

In short, the weathered totem pole was more of an eyesore than an attraction, said Scott Brunell, craft specialist with Spokane Parks and Recreation.

“I just couldn’t stand looking at that thing,” he said. “In some places, the paint was completely worn off. People couldn’t tell what it was.”

So Brunell got his boss, Dave Randolph, the Parks and Recreation labor foreman, to approve the project. Then Brunell got to sanding and single-handedly refurbished the entire pole, which is located on Canada Island.

“It was just a labor of love,” he said. “It just needed to be done.”

Brunell had to mix whatever paint he had on hand to match the original colors. That required some imagination, he said, because the original paint was worn off in places.

“We had to do some guessing, but we tried to keep the colors looking the way they originally did,” he said “I’m pretty happy with the way it came out.”

He had completed the bottom third of the pole when he hit a road block; he could not reach the top. He needed a lift, which would have cost Parks and Recreation about $500.

So the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, which paid a Canadian Indian and an American Indian to construct the pole in 1978 for its annual Bighorn Outdoor Adventure Show, donated a truck lift for a week so the project could be completed.

Even though the pole looks better, no one is really sure what it means, said Larry Carey, an Inland Northwest Wildlife Council member. He is working with the American Indian Community Center to get more information on its significance.

“Typically when they carve a pole it signifies an event or means something,” he said.

The council is also trying to get the city to approve a plaque to let people know who built the pole, when and why, he said.

A second totem pole in the park, constructed for Expo ’74, is half-carved and also in a state of disrepair. Brunell said he hopes the carving will someday be completed and that he can be the one to revamp the “derelict” pole.

For now, though, he is happy to have completed the first one.

“It’s great,” he said. “Now I think it’s something worth looking at.”