When Virginia Kanikeberg took her dog for a walk recently, she decided to explore the trail that runs from the intersection of East Eighth Avenue and Pittsburg Street north to Liberty Park.
It’s a beautifully landscaped trail which runs in switchbacks down the steep slope of the South Hill, to the East Central swimming pool. There’s a great view of Spokane Valley and Mount Spokane from the top, but Kanikeberg’s attention was soon directed downward.
“There was so much broken glass on the trail I decided it wasn’t safe for my dog to walk there,” she said.
The cement trail is also covered in graffiti, some of which is gang related.
An old mattress has been dumped there, and a mix of beer cans, soda bottles, cigarette packs and other trash lines the trail.
“The trail could really be an asset, but it looks bad, abandoned and underutilized,” Kanikeberg wrote in an email. “It’s a total waste and I wish that we could reclaim it.”
Kanikeberg is not the kind of person who waits around for someone else to take the lead: she’s happy to organize a cleanup and maintenance group.
“I will even bring some snacks if I have to,” she said, while walking the trail Tuesday morning. “It’s right here in the neighborhood; it’s a great asset. We should do something about it.”
There is, however, one problem: the trail is not on park land and it’s not a street, so no city department is responsible for maintaining it.
“I hate to use the term but it’s sort of in no-man’s land when it comes to maintenance,” said Taylor Bressler, the Parks and Recreation Department’s planning and development director.
He added that the Parks Department would pick up bagged trash at a predetermined location, after a weekend cleanup project.
“We do that all the time, as long as we can get a vehicle in there,” said Bressler. “We’ll pick it up the first coming Monday after the cleanup is done.”
The Spokane Street Department would be the logical owner of the trail because it follows the Pittsburg Street right-of-way down the hill.
Shane Thornton, street supervisor for Spokane, said the trail is what’s called “unimproved right-of-way,” and his department maintains the stair sections, including closing them off for winter.
“Nobody owns the trail,” Thornton said.
And that’s a problem when it comes to graffiti removal: if no one owns the trail, no one is going to sponsor the expensive and tedious removal of the gang graffiti.
“The street department usually ends up taking care of it,” said Thornton, “but we have no money for anything. We used to have a bunch of temporaries that would go out and do those things. Now I don’t even have a full crew of permanent people.”
Within the city of Spokane, property owners have 10 days to remove graffiti or be fined under the nuisance ordinance. It’s been a bone of contention with property owners that the city doesn’t always remove graffiti from public property in the same timely fashion.
Kanikeberg said just removing all the trash and the broken glass would be a great help.
“I thought the graffiti was just kids painting on the path, playing hopscotch or something,” she said, shaking her head. “I really think this could be done.”