A water park in the Spokane River, once considered a potential centerpiece for water recreation just blocks from downtown, will not come to be anytime soon; maybe never.
Spokane City Parks Director Leroy Eadie says a scoping process to explore the park’s potential environmental impacts has been set aside because there was little likelihood challenges posed by redband trout spawning beds at the preferred location near the Sandifur Bridge could be easily overcome. Alternative sites upstream are also compromised by the redband, a subspecies unique to a very few rivers.
The water park’s shelving is an unfortunate counterpoint to other, positive developments within the Spokane River gorge, but it also illustrates how enthusiasm generated by a potential new recreation resource can bring to the fore another that had been overlooked or undervalued.
To create a water park, man-made pilings or other structures are placed in the river to rechannel water. The waves and pools that result are beloved by kayakers who can surf and flip in the currents. Parks in Boise and Reno, among others, have become popular attractions, and Spokane enthusiasts envisioned a local extension of a circuit kayakers might make from park to park.
The potential to attract hundreds, if not thousands, of kayakers and their families to Spokane was embraced by the hospitality industry. The location is ideal, with plenty of room for parking and spectators. The bridge would connect directly to the Centennial Trail extension through Kendall Yards.
But the project began running against the current when attention shifted to the redbands, which have their supporters among many local fisherman, and outsiders attracted by glowing reports about their size and abundance. That has been good for guides who can get clients on the water within an hour of check-in at a downtown hotel.
Spokane’s redband population is self-sustaining, but only if its few spawning areas are not disturbed. As concerns over the redbands’ future increased, the state in 2011 withdrew a $500,000 grant that would have paid for much of the water park’s development.
Discouraged supporters backed away from the park, but Eadie says the city and Spokane River Forum decided to undertake a scoping study that could be the foundation for a more comprehensive environmental impact statement. He says the early work on the study was so discouraging, even when removable, inflatable river features were considered, the city and forum will redirect unspent funds to assessing opportunities for another river access near downtown, possibly Glover Field, another overlooked community asset.
Conceptual plans to make Glover the lower end of a walkway/pipeline down from Huntington Park, behind City Hall, could make the Peaceful Valley green haven a new recreation hub. But cultural artifacts of the Spokane and other tribes might be put at risk, not to mention the “peaceful” aspect of the neighborhood.
The plans demonstrate again the new thinking City Hall is applying to old problems. The possibilities are intriguing. If new can be reconciled with old, the gorge will become a little greater.