Despite losing 40 percent of its full-time staff in the past two years because of state budget cuts, Riverside State Park has found a way to move forward and even improve facilities this season.
Grants, volunteer help and partnerships with other groups and agencies have helped provide:
• New equestrian campground, opening this week.
• Bowl and Pitcher area staircase, replacing the slick slope at the end of the suspension bridge over the Spokane River.
• Recreational rental house at the Bowl and Pitcher site.
• Forest health and fire prevention project under way near Plese Flats.
• Planned takeover of the Long Lake (Lake Spokane) Campground currently managed by the Department of Natural Resources.
“We’ve been dealing with a lot of changes lately, but we also have projects that were under way before we had the staff cuts,” said Chris Guidotti, park manager.
The number of people working at the park this summer is about the same as last year as the agency shifts toward a seasonal staffing model, he said.
The main difference is that the park will have fewer offseason personnel and fewer year-round commissioned law enforcement officers who can write infractions and make arrests. That’s not an insignificant difference for a park that sprawls over 10,000 acres in or bordering the city of Spokane.
“We’ll have to see how this works out, replacing trained high-quality professional rangers with seasonal employees that tend to have a high turnover rate,” Guidotti said.
Riverside State Park includes the park core from T.J. Meenach Bridge down the Spokane River through portions of Lake Spokane. In addition, the park manages the Little Spokane River Natural Area on the north side of Spokane, the Centennial Trail to the Idaho border and the Columbia Plateau Trail near Cheney.
Riverside is host to about 3 million visits a year.
The Washington Legislature is asking state parks to reorganize and run themselves more like businesses, Guidotti said. Part of that transition requires motor vehicles to have a Discover Pass for parking at park sites. The pass costs $30 a year and is valid for two vehicles.
State parks also will be exploring new sources of revenue.
The new equestrian campground opening at Riverside this week is the first of its kind in the state park system. The campground was built by staff and a big volunteer effort by the Inland Empire Chapter of Back Country Horsemen of Washington.
“The campground is not complete, but the first phase with 16 campsites is open on a first-come basis and will be on the state registration system starting in July,” Guidotti said.
Each campsite has a corral for horses plus large driveways or pull-through sites to accommodate vehicles pulling horse trailers. The Back Country Horsemen built the corrals in a series of work sessions.
“We already have people calling from Seattle asking about it just from word of mouth,” Guidotti said.
A house at the Bowl and Pitcher vacated by a lost ranger position is being offered for rent as an income producer. The house sleeps eight people and will be renting for $160 a night starting in July.
The Bowl and Pitcher area – with its spectacular geology, suspension bridge, campground, picnic area and miles of trails – is the most popular site in the park.
Like most state parks, Riverside will be looking for as many partnerships as possible to make ends meet, Guidotti said.
The new steps at the Bowl and Pitcher bridge over the Spokane River are the product of a $20,000 grant the Riverside State Park Foundation secured through Wal-Mart.
“That’s one of the busiest places in the park and it was scary sometimes watching people go up and down the slick, eroded slope before the stairs were installed,” he said.
The park is tapping a Department of Corrections crew to thin trees on up to 90 acres near the Plese Flats boat access site.
“We’re keeping the healthy trees, but there are a lot of larger 10- to 14-inch diameter trees coming out of there,” Guidotti said. “It won’t look great at first, but eventually it will as we work toward what the ecosystem looked like before fire suppression.
“When we get the next fire in the park – and I say when, not if – it will be less likely to crown out and affect the neighboring residential areas.”
The Long Lake Campground on the north side of the lake near Long Lake Dam may be turned over to Riverside State Park this year under agreements with Avista and the Department of Natural Resources.
Two major changes would occur under the transfer:
• The campground likely would be open longer in the spring and fall.
• Free camping would be replaced by fee camping, the same as the park charges at its other campgrounds.
“That campground has some excellent sites that we’ll try to improve over time,” Guidotti said.
“There’s a demand for good campgrounds along the river,” he said. That is prompting park officials to study other Nine Mile area sites for their potential as campgrounds and new revenue sources.