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Finch Arboretum access likely planning priority: Public comment period coming up as part of developing new master plan

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 11, 2018, 11:02 p.m.

Visitors the John A. Finch Arboretum take in the beauty of Green Mountain Sugar Maple tree, Oct. 12, 2016. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Visitors the John A. Finch Arboretum take in the beauty of Green Mountain Sugar Maple tree, Oct. 12, 2016. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Making Finch Arboretum more accessible to the public from the inside out is among the ideas being considered in a new master plan being developed for the arboretum.

The Spokane city parks department is working with a landscape design consultant, experts in the community and the general public to develop the master plan.

The work that started last year is now approaching one of its most important phases - comment from the wider public.

Two public open houses will be held, and other types of surveys, including one online, will be part of the communitywide outreach, officials said. Those open houses are yet to be scheduled, but the dates and details for input opportunities will be given in future news coverage. The first open house could be held within the next several weeks.

“This is a first step to create a functional and interesting arboretum,” said Nick Hamad, landscape architect for park planning.

The parks department has put increasing emphasis on master planning in recent years, in part because it helps to move along future improvements.

“It gives us a tool to advocate for funding,” Hamad said.

Having a master plan helps in competition for grants.

Angel Spell, director of urban forestry for the city, said the plan “really creates a pathway forward to the future potential of what the arboretum could be.”

For example, just finding the arboretum entrance along Sunset Boulevard in southwest Spokane can be a challenge, and other potential entryways from the east are not well marked, including the one through the street tree exhibit next to the arboretum.

Once inside the arboretum, the pathway system is a tangle. So wayfinding is likely to become one of the priorities.

Another area of concern is a wooded space at the northwest side of the arboretum where a lot of walkers, joggers and bike riders like to go, said Craig Andersen, landscape project manager for AHBL, a consultant hired by the city to help with the planning project.

But that wooded area is also being used by homeless people as illegal campsites, which is a problem, officials said.

It has an informal entry that could be improved, Spell said.

The traffic roar from Interstate 90 on the adjacent Sunset Hill creates a contradiction to the oasis that an arboretum should be. Addressing that problem is likely to be another goal in the plan.

In developing the draft plan, consultants brought in ideas from other arboreta, including ones in Seattle and at the University of Idaho.

While many of the tree collections in Finch Arboretum are grouped by species such as crabapples or oaks, the more modern trend is to create plant communities that reflect natural ecosystems, Andersen said.

But Finch Arboretum has so many big and well-maintained trees that undoing that would be a mistake, officials said.

“The age and size of some of those species is incredible,” Andersen said

Spell said, however, that the plant community concept could be incorporated in some places.

The planning work recently finished what they called a visioning process with the assistance of a group - called the critical stakeholders - with close knowledge of the arboretum and horticulture as well as involvement with events and programs there.

The first public open house in coming weeks revolves around the visioning model.

The city’s standing citizen advisory committee for urban forestry has participated as well, Spell said.

“The more input we get the better,” she said.

The plan should be finished in the next several months.

Within the arboretum, the master plan is expected to support an ongoing bank restoration of Garden Springs Creek, which flows through the arboretum and offers visual delight with a pair of waterfalls through the heart of the plantings.

Hidden spaces within the arboretum would be easier to find with an improved trail and sign system, Andersen said.

But the master plan will be written in a way to allow for flexibility as improvements are being undertaken, he said.

During the master plan visioning, participants were asked several questions, including this one: “The arboretum is important to the community because …”

The arboretum is a place where people get married and high school seniors have their portraits taken. Andersen said, “People love the arboretum.”


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