August 12, 2012 in City, Outdoors

Whitewater park supporters stage first Spokane River Festival

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Rafting guide Nicole Winters, right, gives a safety briefing to her charges before they take off from the Peaceful Valley area Saturday.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

After years of obstacles and delays, river sports enthusiasts continue their efforts to bring a whitewater park to Spokane.

A consortium of advocates held the Spokane River Festival on Saturday at Glover Field to re-energize residents and officials about the potential for a whitewater park within city limits.

Glover is one of two possible locations for the whitewater park, they say. Some have their sights instead on an area of land downriver near the Sandifur Bridge next to People’s Park. As part of Saturday’s event, Peak 7 Adventures took attendees out on a short raft trip between the two sites.

“Right now, we just started scoping on the river,” said Dustin Semb, one of the event organizers. “Scoping gives us an idea of where to focus.”

Semb, a member of the nonprofit group Friends of the Spokane River Whitewater Park, said park advocates will wrap up the selection process for a location by mid-October. From there, they will hire a private contractor to prepare an environmental impact statement for the project.

“It just takes a really long time,” he said, “but I’m really confident that it’s going to get to where it needs to be.”

The EIS could take a year or more for a river project. Semb hopes it will move forward quickly following years of roadblocks.

Local nonprofit Friends of the Falls developed the idea of bringing tourists and kayakers to the area by creating a whitewater park on the river. The organization helped secure a $530,000 grant for the park in June 2007 from the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office.

But concerns soon emerged about the consequences of a whitewater park for the spawning of native redband trout in the river. Parks Director Leroy Eadie, who at the time served as the city’s planning director, ordered a study on the impact.

The study concluded that the effects on spawning trout could be mitigated at the Sandifur Bridge. Nonetheless, the study stalled the project.

By June 2011, the city parks department had only spent $30,000 of that grant. Citing a lack of progress, RCO officials rejected an appeal to keep the remaining $500,000 for the project.

Since then, Friends of the Spokane River Whitewater Park has held meetings to build momentum for the park once again.

Turnout has varied, Semb said. Sometimes, 30 people will show up, and on other days, it’s only a few sitting in an empty room.

Semb guessed that more than 100 people stopped by Glover between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. for Saturday’s event. He plans to make the festival a yearly occasion.

Semb prefers the Glover site for the whitewater park because of its proximity to downtown and the picturesque view it offers of the Monroe Street Bridge.

“Half the pictures you see out there of the Monroe Street Bridge were taken from this park or this waterline,” he said.

Even so, the water is better near the Sandifur Bridge because it’s already channelized, Semb said. To make the river more rapid at Glover, rocks would have to be rearranged under the surface.

A park could make whitewater activities attractive for those who are not already avid river boaters, said Celene Olgeirsson, president of the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club.

“As whitewater boaters, we have lots of play waves all year round on the Spokane River,” Olgeirsson said. “But I think for the community itself, it would be a smart idea. I mean, we’ve got a river running through our town and we’re not even using it.”

The eighth and 11th paragraphs of this story have been edited for accuracy.

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