June 11, 2013 in City

On the right path

Groups make Spokane River easier, prettier to access
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Spokane River Forum Executive Director Andy Dunau, left, Jeanna Hofmeister of Visit Spokane and Brian Durheim of the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club discuss the Spokane Water Trail project Friday near Mirabeau Park.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Volunteers have turned eyesores into entries along the Spokane River to help make the region’s signature waterway easier to use.

In one popular area, a half-ton of weeds were pulled. In another, volunteers are trying to slow erosion by planting native trees and grasses.

And at the center of the efforts to bring people and the river together is the Spokane River Forum and its new website that maps where rafters, floaters, kayakers and anglers can access the water.

The site, spokanewatertrail.org, highlights information ranging from where to picnic or put in a boat from the state line to Tum Tum.

River users can enter what type of access they want and search the site, or head to pages devoted to paddling, fishing and rafting.

The website also provides links to outdoors groups, local outfitters and Avista Utilities for everything from water flows to river safety to how the fish are biting. “It’s the first time ever anyone has put all the access points on the map,” said Andy Dunau, executive director of the Spokane River Forum. “The information was here, there and everywhere.”

The River Forum also has been working to improve existing access points and create new ones.

“(Dunau) dreams big,” Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club river access chairman Brian Durheim said. “It’s that dream that got us started.”

One of the biggest improvements was to the Mirabeau trailhead in Spokane Valley. The Centennial Trail runs along a bluff near the road and the hillside leading down to the water was weed-infested and scarred by informal trails. Erosion was a problem.

Volunteers from the River Forum, the Canoe and Kayak Club and the Veterans for the Environment tackled the project. REI Inc. provided a grant to help cover costs.

Volunteers fenced the top of the hill to channel people onto the official trail down to the water. More than 900 pounds of weeds and other debris were taken off the hillside and native grasses were planted.

“We never do an access project without a restoration component,” Dunau said.

The River Forum’s work can also be seen at the Barker Bridge access point, where the group has worked on restoration since the bridge was replaced several years ago. Pine trees have been planted on the shore and willow whips were planted near the river’s edge this spring to improve fish habitat.

There are more improvements to come. The group is involved in discussions to create a new access point downtown as part of the Spokane Convention Center expansion. The River Forum is also helping the Spokane Conservation District create a new river access at the state line just upstream of the Appleway Bridge. If all the permits come through, it should be built this fall, Dunau said.

The group has applied for a grant to build a slide system at the Islands trailhead near Coyote Rocks. Essentially, two rails with stairs running alongside, the system allows boaters to slide their boats down into the water and a winch helps haul the boats back up.

While the website will be helpful for locals, it’s also designed to attract visitors to the area.

“They come in to cycle, they come in to use the river,” said Jeanna Hofmeister, Spokane River Forum board chairwoman and chief marketing officer for Visit Spokane. “This is what we sell all the time. It’s one of the great resources we have here.”


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