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Friends of Manito and Spokane Parks Foundation make Spokane’s parks better looking and more fun

From inside a classroom at Manito Park, Dave Lennstrom opens the door, letting light flood the room. He points outside to the native shrubs on the hill beyond the manicured gardens.

“That’s where the Owl Castle used to be,” he said. To the left, he points to parts once occupied by polar bears, monkeys and elk.

The old zoo animals were removed from the park during the Great Depression, and many of their spaces now hold gifts like gazebos and pergolas from the nonprofit Friends of Manito.

Lennstrom, president of the Friends of Manito, is constantly raising money and seeking to construct improvement projects in one of Spokane’s most beloved parks, ranked the No. 1 destination in the city by the website Trip Advisor.

One of the biggest fundraisers the Friends of Manito hosts is its yearly plant sale, selling over 500 species. It was held June 9.

“So it rained pretty much all day,” Lennstrom said.

Lennstrom said the sale drew about half the number of people as last year, but it exceeded last year’s revenue by about $5,400. Although the profit numbers won’t show until the year’s end, he’s hopeful for the organization’s growth.

“We also brought in 142 memberships,” he said, “which was fantastic.”

Lennstrom has a list of about 30 projects that he is considering, including a new Japanese garden gazebo and a new gate to Duncan Gardens.

The Friends of Manito’s office sits in the middle of the park and partners with the city parks department. The nonprofit is able to use the grounds; the city maintains the gifts from the nonprofit.

Lennstrom isn’t sure what projects the Friends of Manito’s board of directors will vote to fund next, but they tend to be short-term additions.

“We like to be able to point to some success,” Lennstrom said.

Spokane Parks Foundation

Terri Fortner spent one Thursday this month unpacking and sorting about 500 swimsuits.

Fortner is the executive director of the Spokane Parks Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to complement parks and recreation in Spokane. She was joined by her team in the basement of an office building on West Mission Avenue. The name of their program is Make a Splash.

The swimsuits will be given to children who can’t afford them.

“You may not be able to swim because you don’t have the appropriate attire,” she said. This is the ninth year the nonprofit has been giving swimsuits to those in need.

But this year, the gesture is amplified because the six city pools are free every day – for the first time since 2009. The county’s pools have only one free day, but Fortner said she is working to make those free every day, too.

The Spokane Parks Foundation is also offering free water safety lessons for children to prevent drowning.

“Our region has over 66 bodies of water. Therefore, we felt it was critically important for us to put financial resources to ensure we are teaching our kids how to swim,” Fortner said. “It’s just a matter of time until they’re around a body of water.”

The nonprofit also boosts community parks with tens of thousands of dollars in grant money it gives to camps, trail projects and other programs in the city and county.

Fortner said this year, the foundation was able to accept every grant application that fit the criteria – a total of 12 grants and $61,300.

“This is the first year that we were able to do that,” she said.

The biggest grant went to the Airway Heights recreation complex for paved pathways to make the grounds more accessible.

Fortner said the idea of nonprofits like Spokane Parks Foundation and Friends of Manito is to maintain and preserve quality, and to encourage great recreational programs.


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