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WaLeg Day 82: House Capital budget has $95 million for Spokane projects

OLYMPIA – State agencies would spend a total of $95 million on construction projects in Spokane County ranging from improvements at Mount Spokane to updates at Eastern Washington University, under a plan approved this week by the House of Representatives.

The proposed Capital Budget, which would spend a total of $3.5 billion around the state on projects other transportation, is often known as the state’s bricks and mortar budget that covers projects from many state agencies. It’s not as controversial as the operating budget, and passed the House on a 96-2 vote Thursday.

Mount Spokane State Park would get $6 million for Nordic ski area improvements and to develop a horse camp, $2.5 million to relocate a maintenance facility and another $2.4 million for improvements on roads that are facing failure.

Included in the spending plan is nearly $24 million for a list of infrastructure renewal, facility preservation and building maintenance projects at Eastern Washington University, and $3.3 million for improvements at Eastern State Hospital. The state Veterans Cemetery would get about $2.7 million for an upgrade and the Marshall Landfill would get $5 million from the Department of Ecology cleanup fund.

A late addition to the list of Spokane County projects was $1.5 million for the Fairchild Air Force Base Protection and Community Empowerment Project, which would be used to buy two mobile home parks within a protected area near the base, so the land could be rezoned for light industrial use. Local government and business leaders consider the mobile home parks property an encroachment that could put the base at a disadvantage in a future round of base closures.

Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, said the money would help protect the mission of the base and position it for the future, and made adding the money for the empowerment zone one of his top priorities.

In 2013, Spokane County commissioners had a more extensive plan and asked voters to approve a property tax increase to raise $18 million to buy seven mobile home parks in and around the zone and relocate the residents. More than half the voters said yes, but it didn’t get the super-majority needed for a property tax increase.

The Senate hasn't voted on a Capital Budget yet. To see the full proposal, as well as lists or maps of the projects for any county or legislative district, click here.

Today is prime for off-trail nordic ski route at Mount Spokane

WINTER SPORTS — If I weren't forced at knife-point to be here in the office today, I'd be taking advantage of the prime conditions presented by the weekend's dump of 10 inches of new snow to be skiing Art's Boogie and other off-trail routes at Mount Spokane State Park.

See Sunday's story (also click the Photos button for photos) about Art Bookstrom, who helped blaze an off-the-groomed-trails route for people who sometimes long for a peaceful trek through the woods.

Extension:  Art's Boogie is about 3Ks one-way from the Selkirk Lodge area to the Nova Hut.  Extend your pleasure by continuing up the access road to the Quartz Mountain Lookout (see photo).

On the other hand, there's freezing rain in the area, so driving would be tricky and the temperatures will be warming as the day advances.

Maybe the office isn't such a bad place to be?

Snowmobilers venturing out of bounds at Mount Spokane

WINTER SPORTS — A few snowmobilers continue to break rules and ride out of their approved zones and onto snowshoe trails and the downhill ski area at Mount Spokane.

It's not a new problem, as this story explains.

Snowshoers who have been finding tracks in several park areas off-limits to snowmobiles suggest people who encounter the problem should report their experience on Mount Spokane State Park's online visitor comment form.

Langlauf 10K a nordic race for all kinds

WINTER SPORTS — The annual Langlauf cross-country ski race at Mount Spokane has equal parts of waxing anxiety, sweat, cheering, food — and a lot of hope for placing high in an age group or winning one of the many drawings for thousands of dollars worth of prizes. 

It's a colorful event that attracts participants spaning 80 years of age.

Check it out in this gallery of photos I shot today while skiing the race with 244 other participants.

New signs mark expanded nordic trails system at Mount Spokane

WINTER SPORTS — While many skiers were enjoying the new layer of light snow and 25-degree temperatures at Mount Spokane State Park today, a group of volunteers was helping nordic skiers stay on course in the expanded cross-country trail system.

Pictured above from left, Drew Schlieder, Sam Schlieder and George Momany from Spokane Nordic Ski Association were taking down old signs on the north half of the trail system and replacing them with signs that included  more than 12 kilometers of new groom trails added this season.  The total groomed trails system at Mount Spokane Cross-Country Ski Park is more than 42 kilometers.

"I'd like to be giving my skis a workout instead of riding this snowmobile," said Momany, " but I'm glad to be doing this (to help keep skiers stay oriented).

The new trails will be added temporarily to the old signs with a laminate since this season is a test with Inland Empire Paper Company to see how the program works to expand grooming from the state park onto private timber lands.

"We don't want to invest $1,500 in new signs until we're sure the program will continue," Momany said. 

Winter Knights snowmobilers stock warming cabin

WINTER SPORTS — About a dozen volunteers from the Spokane Winter Knights Snowmobile Club convened at Mount Spokane State Park recently and rolled up their sleeves to get the CCC Cabin near Mount Kit Carson ready for winter.

The group  takes on the annual event to cut and split firewood and neatlyh stock it into the shelter, which is used by a wide range of snowmobilers, skier and snowshoers.

Hiker finds Mount Spokane dusted by snow

STATE PARKS — Warren Walker found this moody scene Monday on the trail near the Bald Knob picnic area on Mount Spokane.

Spokane meetings focus on future of state parks

PARKS — Washington State Parks officials have set meetings in Spokane to discuss potentially sweeping changes in management of facilities at Riverside and Mount Spokane.

The meetings will be at Spokane Public Library Shadle Branch, 2111 W. Wellesley Ave. as follows:

Similar meetings across the state will gather public opinion on whether the state parks system would be operated as a private enterprise based on profits generated at the sites or as a public conservation asset.

Other options include turning over more parks to local communities to operate as a non-profit attractions, officials said.

Officials also are asking the public to help them rank the top features of their state parks and what needs improvement, said Virginia Painter, parks spokeswoman in Olympia.

The cash-strapped parks system is trying to make a five-year management plan. The Washington Legislature had voted to wean the parks from all state general funding in the next few years.

Rangers and other staff positions at Riverside and Mount Spokane state parks were cut by 40 percent in Jaunary.

Click here for information about the planning effort and making comments.

Snowshoers getting snubbed at Mt. Spokane ski area

WINTER SPORTS — Signs have been poking up on Mount Spokane warning snowshoers they're no longer going to be tolerated hiking popular routes up to the mountain summit.

Indeed, the signs let snowshoers, hikers, backcountry skiers and others who want to access the summit of Mt. Spokane that they're not allowed to go up through the downhill skiing concession area.

This rule has been enforced against snowmobiles for many years. But now it's getting personal with one of the newest and fastest growing state park user groups.

Local snowhoer Chris Bachman contacted Randy Kline, Washington State Parks environmental program manager in Olympia, and asked him who is responsible for the signs and why.

Below is Kline’s reply. Note that if the ski area's planned expansion on the backside of the mountain goes through, even more access will be lost to the non-downhil public.

Greetings Chris,
As I understand it, hiking up the mountain on groomed trails in the concession area at Mount Spokane is not currently permitted – in speaking to the park manager, this is a State Parks decision related to safety and risk management. Snowshoe folks and backcountry nordic skiers currently use an alternate route that is outside the improved concession area that gets them up to Vista House. However, the proposed expansion area will occur within a portion of the area currently used by snowshoe folks and nordic backcountry skiers so – if they will not be allowed on groomed trails - we should begin looking at alternative means to accommodate these users in their desire to get up to Vista House. Thank you for the letting me know that this is an issue of concern .
Randy Kline, Environmental Program Manager
Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
1111 Israel Road SW, Tumwater, WA 98501
PO Box 42650, Olympia, WA 98504
Phone: 360.902.8632

Mount Spokane mountain biking topic of parks survey

STATE PARKS – A survey regarding mountain biking at Mount Spokane State Park has been launched by Washington State Parks. People who love the park should comment, even if they are not mountain bikers. Read on and I'll tell you why.

The public has until Dec. 16 to complete the online survey and indicate their desires for mountain biking opportunities at the 13,919-acre state park to help officials plan future trail developments.

Survey questions focus on how park visitors use the trail system now and on how the system could be improved.

After 15 years of effort from the Mount Spokane State Park Advisory Committee, a "master plan" has finally been approved. Now the details and on-the-ground stuff is being worked out.  Trails can and are being realigned for all sorts of reasons, and one of the chief reasons to consider is safety.

Unfortunately, a full mountain biking plan has yet to be completed. 

If you've hiked or ridden a horse on Mount Spokane trails you probably share my feeling that high-speed downhill mountain biking is not compatible with other recreationsts on steep trails. This survey seems to be a start at addressing that.

"We want every visitor to Mount Spokane to have a positive experience, and we know that many people have experienced conflict, frustration, and outright fear when high speed mountain bikers encounter other recreationists," said Friends spokesman Cris Currie. "The local mountain biking community and state parks in Olympia have created a survey to gather input on this matter and I would hope that each of you might take the time to answer it.

"The Advisory Committee's position so far is to create a high speed mountain biking area in the alpine ski area and then apply more restrictions to mountain biking on other trails in the park.  We've reached no conclusions yet regarding what these restrictions might look like, but we would like your opinions!" 

Fore details on Mount Spokane trails and the master plan updates, see the great Friends of Mount Spokane State Park website.

For more info on the survey, contact: Nikki Fields, state park planner (360) 902-8658, email mount.spokane.mountainbike@parks.wa.gov

Last chance to drive to summit of Mount Spokane

STATE PARKS — The gate for the summit road to the top of Mount Spokane will be locked Sunday evening, marking the end of the state park's summer season. 

That makes this weekend the last opportunity to drive to the top of the mountain until next June.

Hikers and bikers will still be allowed to use muscle power to the mountain's 5883-foot summit. And motor vehicles can still drive to several trailheads, the alpin ski area and the nordic ski trails.

Snow usually covers the top of the mountain by late November.

Trained ears, eyes find numerous bird species at Mount Spokane

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Tim O'Brien of Cheney devoted this morning to a hiking and driving birding forayMount Spokane. While we all enjoy seeing and hearing birds when we head to the state park, it's fascinating to see the detail and diversity trained eyes and ears pick out of the forest and meadows.

Read on for Tim's report and list of species he observed.

Mt. Spokane ski area can expand, parks panel says

STATE PARKS — Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park will be allowed to expand into pristine terrain on the mountain’s northwest face.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission voted 4-0 Thursday afternoon to allow the expansion to move forward, after hours of discussion about recreational desires versus the need to protect old-growth forest, meadows and wetlands at Mount Spokane, the state’s largest park.

Click here to read all of SR reporter Becky Kramer's story.

Mt. Spokane ski area expansion clears hurdle

STATE PARKS — The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission today OKed environmental considerations in the conceptual expansion proposals for expanding Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park.

According to a press release just posted, the commission "issued a Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) for the proposed action."

 The Commission is expected to consider this proposal at its May 19 meeting in Spokane. 

Comments on the proposal may be submitted through March 16, 2011 to randy.kline@parks.wa.gov

The SEPA determination, checklist, maps, and additional documents related to the proposal have been posted to the State Parks website.