The Washington Parks and Recreation Commission and the Spokane community have had 15 years to evaluate a proposed expansion of the Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park. Thursday, commission members should give the go-ahead.
This will be a tough call, and the public will have one more opportunity to comment Wednesday evening at the CenterPlace in Spokane Valley.
Mount Spokane 2000, operators of the area since 1997, want to expand into 279 acres on the “backside” slope of the existing runs; installing a new lift and cutting in seven new runs.
Skier visits have more than quadrupled since the group took over from the previous operator. Base facilities have been expanded and modernized, and lifts and slopes improved. The area can handle about 3,000 skiers a day.
The lift and new slopes would expand daily capacity by another 1,000 skiers and open more terrain to those with less-than-expert ability – the bulk of Mt. Spokane’s users. The area has the largest ski school in the region.
Many skiers, some not the most proficient, already use the mountain’s backside despite the absence of a lift. Although the area is out-of-bounds, the area’s ski patrol must respond to calls for help, and has done so many times. Mount Spokane 2000, a nonprofit headed by a relative of The Spokesman-Review’s owners, also makes lease payments on the acreage despite not being able to use it.
The 279-acre expansion would occur within an 800-acre Potential Alpine Ski Expansion Area carved out in 1999 when the commission classified all the lands within the almost 14,000-acre park. The area operators have considered more ambitious plans, but a 2012 lawsuit by The Lands Council forced the reassessment the commission will vote on Thursday, together with a recommendation Mt. Spokane be allowed to proceed with its plans.
The Lands Council, other environmental groups, area tribes and other state agencies oppose the reclassification and bigger ski area based primarily on the presence of scattered stands of old growth trees, damage lift construction would do to the headwaters of Blanchard Creek, and the impact on wildlife, including populations rare in the Spokane area.
Mt. Spokane can increase its skier capacity within its existing operating area.
The operators say they have addressed the environmental impacts as they have scaled down more ambitious plans. And if the growing number of millennial-generation outdoor recreationists cannot be accommodated at Mt. Spokane, they will drive farther to competing ski facilities that have undergone their own expansions.
The commission must balance environmental stewardship with its obligation to provide Washington citizens with recreational opportunities. Mt. Spokane is already a winter hub for snowmobilers, cross-country and downhill skiers, and snowshoers. In the summer, mountain bikers and horseback riders take over.
The commission staff says enhanced environmental protections included in the expansion plans will serve human and wildlife users. We agree.
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