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Editorial: Park plans will further showcase river, falls

A river runs through downtown Spokane, then takes a series of spectacular spills. You might not fully appreciate this, because the “Near Nature, Near Perfect” city has never taken full advantage of the waterfalls. But that’s beginning to change.

Avista is putting together promising plans, with public input, for Huntington Park, situated on the south bank of the river behind City Hall. You’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of the park, because it’s been anti-social. To find it, climb down the steep stairs west of City Hall, then follow the roar of the waterfall. You can also access it from Spokane Falls Boulevard, across from the library, but as you head down the gravel road, you might feel like you’re trespassing.

To put it lightly, this park hasn’t been inviting, but those who have stood near the falls know that it’s worth the trek. During the spring and early summer, visitors are sprayed by the mist as the river plunges toward the Monroe Street Bridge.

Many tourists wonder why this isn’t a haven for nature lovers. We’ve wondered the same. Now Avista wants to do something about that with a $2 million makeover. City Hall is working with the power company by offering to surrender a small parking lot along Post Street. Avista wants to turn the Post Street entrance into a plaza that would serve as a connector to Riverfront Park.

Huntington Park would be upgraded with sidewalks, paths, lighting, a grassy area and interpretive signs. An old powerhouse turbine would be on hand for viewing. It’s possible that a path could be built that would head west along the south bank to Sandifur Bridge, where a whitewater park could emerge someday. From there, hikers and bikers could head up to Kendall Yards on the north bank to link up with the new stretch of Centennial Trail that is under construction.

The hope is that this all comes together next year for the 40th anniversary of Expo ’74.

Riverfront Park is also facing the possibility of a makeover, as the Park Board looks to infuse energy into its tired features. A newly formed committee is working out the details of the renovation, which would be financed with a bond issue to be placed before voters in November 2014. The amount of the bond has yet to be determined, but $50 million has been suggested at the high end.

Among the possible changes are: Moving the amusement rides from the U.S. Pavilion to the north bank. Moving the skating rink to the field near the Bloomsday runner statue. Constructing a grand pedestrian boulevard along the old Howard Street alignment, which would better connect the park to north bank features and the Arena. Opening the Clocktower, so the public can climb it and enjoy the view. Extending the gondola to the Convention Center. Whether this is worth it will depend on price tag and the details of the overall plan, but the possibilities are exciting.

The city reclaimed the river and the falls from a tangle of rails 40 years ago. It’s encouraging to see harmonic public and private projects that will further embrace the natural splendor.

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