Palisades Park – despite its trails, wildlife, wildflowers, waterfall and romantic views overlooking Spokane – had become a creepy eyesore of neglect until neighbors took charge.
After years of cleanups on their own, the west Spokane neighborhood organization known simply as Palisades has rallied groups such as hikers, mountain bikers, high schools and even the muscle of a group from Fairchild Air Force Base to revive the area’s dignity from a clientele of druggies and garbage dumpers.
The turning point came in 2007, when the neighborhood convinced the city to install gates and block vehicle traffic from the scenic section of Rimrock Drive above cliffs overlooking Spokane Falls Community College.
“It was like magic,” said Robbi Castleberry, a resident of the Indian Canyon area and stalwart in the Palisades revival. “Suddenly nature had a chance again.”
The park, which has expanded to about 700 acres including additions of land purchased by the county Conservation Futures program, was established in 1913 with 50 acres donated by John A. Finch. The report of the Board of Park Commissioners noted, “The rocky cliffs and scenic valleys will allow for a driveway passing through the lower side which the grandeur will compare favorably with anything in the Northwest.”
Some of the neglect for the city park stemmed from its unusual location just outside the city limits. Neither the city nor the county parks have fully embraced the area over the years.
“But city parks stepped up to put in those gates; they’re great about hauling away the tons of garbage we’ve picked up, and they’re looking into fixing our parking issues,” Castleberry said. The park’s central trailhead is at the junction of Greenwood Road and Rimrock Drive.
Organizing as a nonprofit group in 2001 gave more than 200 Palisades neighbors fundraising ability and better stature to get grants.
They’ve worked with the Department of Natural Resources to thin stands of ponderosa pines, reduce fire danger and curb the bark beetle infestation triggered by the 1996 ice storm.
In 2006 the group used an $832 grant from Rotary to develop signage to educate the public about the park and sustainable uses and rules prohibiting shooting or motorize travel. The City Parks Department simply didn’t have the money to produce or install the signs.
The 2007 closure of Rimrock Road enabled volunteers to make a major cleanup effort with prospects that their effort wouldn’t immediately be undone.
They dug into the dead animals, couches, tires, stoves, condoms, needles, syringes, baby diapers, chests of drawers, bicycles, TVs, auto bodies and thousands of beer and liquor bottles and fast food packaging.
The need for a road closure and clean up was obvious to the park users even before the troubling increase of gang graffiti.
The next step was focusing on the natural landscape. In 2009, the Spokane County Conservation District and Native Plant Society helped Palisades deal with the infestation of noxious weeds, including biological controls – weevils – that have taken a huge bite out of Dalmatian toadflax and spotted knapweed.
Native grasses have been reseeded in some areas.
The arrowleaf balsamroot will be in full bloom later this month, and visitors can see it better than they have in years.
More than 10 miles of trails have been built or marked in recent years. Palisades sells a map showing most of the trails, but a new one is needed to keep up with the latest Conservation Futures additions and new trails.
Hikers, mountain bikers, snowshoers, cross-country skiers and horse riders have enjoyed the trails, Castleberry said.
Like all neighborhood groups, more active participation is needed, Castleberry said. “We’ve really benefited by the groups who’ve helped out because they appreciate this park even though they don’t live here.”
The annual early April chili feed fundraiser wasn’t as successful as it’s been in the past, she said: “As more people move into the area, we actually have fewer people who want to be involved.
“But I think we have enough money to continue our matching portion for the forestry work with DNR and we’re working with the state to try to make a connection from Palisades to Riverside State Park using an abandoned railway.”
The annual Palisades cleanup, set for Saturday, is a good opportunity for newcomers to get involved and get insight from locals on the best parts of the park.
They can point to the waterfall off Canyon Drive or the CCC stone work on walking portion of Rimrock Drive. Many locals know the history of Indian Canyon, where trails go by sites where Chief Garry lived his last lonesome years in a teepee after Spokane Indians were brutalized by U.S. soldiers in the late 1800s.
But no local advice is needed to take an introductory walk beyond the gates on Rimrock Drive. Check out the wildflowers and look east from the bluff overlooking the city, down Spokane Valley to Mica Peak and Mount Spokane.
This is Spokane’s little nature child. You won’t be alone if you wonder how we could have let it be abused.