Washtucna students lobby for Palouse Falls to be state waterfall

OLYMPIA – Washington has a state bird, a state flower, a state tree, a state fossil and state song, and a host of other official state items.

Why not a state waterfall?

That’s what students from Washtucna Elementary School are wondering. They would like the Legislature to designate Palouse Falls, which is tucked away in an arid and remote part of Eastern Washington, to help out the underappreciated natural wonder practically in their backyard.

What started as a lesson in civics for third- through sixth-grade social studies classes generated bills in the House and the Senate this year and brought five novice lobbyists to Olympia this week to make their pitch.

As far as they know, it would be the first official state waterfall in the country.

Grace Nelson told the House Government Operations and Elections Committee of the Palouse tribal legend about the falls being formed by a beaver, but added “it was actually formed by the Missoula Flood.”

It’s the only year-round falls left from that great prehistoric flood, T.J. Harder said. The most beautiful waterfall in Washington, Lindsay Knudson said. “It’s my favorite waterfall,” Emma Hulett added.

With Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax and the bill’s sponsor, looking on, the students did such a thorough job of describing the size, location and attributes of the falls that the state Parks Department, who had staff in the room, passed on testifying.

“You got in all the important facts,” Daniel Farber, the director of policy and governmental affairs for the Parks Department, told students later in the hallway. People come to Palouse Falls State Park from all over the world, and its fees provide more money than it costs to operate, Farber told them. The state was going to make improvements to Lyons Ferry State Park, which is downstream from the falls, and open it to summer swimming.

After a few questions from the committee, the panel took the unusual step of sending the bill to the full House immediately after the hearing. It did the same thing for a proposal to name the Ostrea lucida, or Olympia oyster, the state oyster.

Washtucna students said they knew the hearing was only the first step toward their goal. The full House will have to pass the bill and an identical one must make it through the Senate.

The sponsor there is Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, who is “just down the road,” teacher Janet Camp said. The students will return to testify before a Senate committee if they have to, she added.