I was an outsider in the best sense of the word when I moved to Spokane 36 years ago.
I enjoyed hiking and biking, hunting and fishing, skiing and paddling – and Spokane quickly surfaced as an ideal base camp.
My native Montana is praised as an outdoorsman’s paradise. But Spokane has access to most of the Treasure State’s benefits and more.
It’s a “big town” that made room for shooting ranges; a little city with national-class schools, health care and running events; a region not quite glamorous enough to attract movie stars gobbling up land as though it were candy.
People can have an outdoor niche in Spokane regardless of their economic status. If you want to be fit, healthy and active outdoors, you’ll be hard pressed to find a place with more opportunities.
The Spokane Mountaineers, Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club and numerous other groups are organized to help you hook into them.
From Spokane you can pedal a bicycle comfortably to rural routes from any quadrant of the city or challenge one of 30 climbing routes in the Rocks of Sharon after work.
And you’re never more than minutes from a place to catch a fish.
Thus, in its September issue, Outside magazine ranks Spokane among 18 “best places” to live in terms of outdoor access, affordability, culture and other attributes that supposedly befit the lifestyle, notably brew pubs.
The distinction is more than warranted, although the rating process and report on River City are so shallow you can wade through them without getting your feet wet.
Spokane had to rally a mere 1,668 votes on Facebook to make the list. My daughter alone has more than that many Facebook friends.
Park City, Utah, collected 5,179 votes to earn the top Outside town title.
Indeed, Park City is a cool place, but with the median home price at $765,600, I’ll opt for much more affordable Spokane – median home price $165,000 – and use the extra change for gear and getaways.
Spokane welcomes the national attention even though the story begins with the cliché of how Seattleites might look down on this little wanna-be city “where the desert meets the Rockies.”
While West Siders are stalled in I-5 gridlock dreaming of being at their active outdoor destination, Spokanites are there.
Honolulu is on Outside’s list. So is Boston. But Spokane has the raw materials for four-season, world-class outdoor recreation, starting with the river that runs through it:
Fly fish for bass upstream and trout downstream of town… raft the Devil’s Toenail Rapid or surf a kayak in Dead Dog Hole… run, walk or pedal the Centennial Trail along the river for 37 miles, taking a rock-climbing break at Deep Creek or Shields Park… join a rowing group on the slackwater above Upriver Dam and follow the wake of Spokane’s Jamie Redman, who went on to become a world champion.
Using Outside’s parameters and looking at what Spokane has within a four-hour drive opens a lifetime of discoveries – far more than the magazine’s 400-word story could cover.
Anglers can catch cutthroats in the St. Joe River, rainbows at hike-in lakes or giant fall chinook in the Hanford Reach of the Columbia.
Cyclists can pedal a downtown criterium, choose from dozens of options for pleasant road biking or enjoy traffic-free riding on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes or Centennial and Fish Lake trails.
Mountain bikers hammer roughly 50 miles of trails in Riverside State Park or they can take a plunge on the downhill mountain bike course at Camp Sekani.
Skiers and boarders have five alpine resorts within easy reach and Mount Spokane’s Nordic Ski Park is set to be expanded into one of the largest – and least expensive – cross-country areas in the nation this year.
Paddlers, hikers, anglers and hunters are surrounded by hundreds of lakes and streams and 10 national forests within the four-hour range, not to mention Lake Roosevelt, four national wildlife refuges and southern British Columbia hot spots such Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.
But nothing should be taken for granted.
Being one of the best outdoor towns in the nation required foresight. Maintaining the attributes will require steady involvement.
Today’s prized public portion of the Little Spokane River was on the verge of being privatized 30 years ago before Spokane County Parks Director Sam Angove launched the effort to secure it as a public natural area.
Brainstorming in the County Engineer’s Office paved the way for the Centennial Trail rather than trophy homes along prized sections of the Spokane River.
Spokane County citizens tax themselves to secure Conservation Futures lands such as the Dishman Hills and Antoine Peak for hiking, open space and nature preservation. Since 1994, we’ve preserved 7,000 acres through 30 acquisitions, most of which have been graced with “volunteer-built” public trails.
The lesson, in my experience, is that we should choose our “best place” to live not just by what it is, but also for its potential.
Then jump in to help make it happen.
Contact Rich Landers at 459-5508 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.