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Don’t give up on the Nordic skiing season

WINTERSPORTS — Washington still offers decent opportunities for cross-country skiing, despite last week's record high temperatures and rain.

One benefit of the unseasonably warm weather:  the roads to the ski areas such as Mount Spokane are bare.

Veterans Day freebies

Parking is free in Spokane today in honor of Veterans Day.

Washington state parks are also free, for the same reason.

Giving the rest of us two more things for which to thank veterans. Two small things, to be sure, compared to thanks for their overall service. But still…

Riverside State Park: 14,000 acres of ‘happy’

PUBLIC LANDS — Having a gorgeous state park to honor the Spokane River as it flows out of Spokane is a good reason to smile.

This video — produced by the Riverside State Park Foundation with performances by groovy park rangers, lots of local park users and Karen Jurasin's dancing dog, Scout — just hints at the multi-use assets we have minutes from downtown.

Facts about Riverside State Park:

  • It's Washington's largest state park, managing sites in four counties.
  • It's managed by just seven full-time rangers who cover about 14,000 acres, including sites along 65 miles of the Spokane River from the Idaho stateline downstream to Long Lake Dam.
  • The park oversees the 37-mile Spokane River Centennial Trail.
  • The largest contiguous portion of the park covers 10,000 acres in or bordering the city of Spokane, attracting more than 3 million visits a year.
  • This core area stretches downstream from the T.J. Meenach Bridge to the Nine Mile area. The area includes the Bowl and Pitcher campground, a new equestrian campground, river-running access sites, including Plese Flat, an off-road vehicle riding area with a new section for novice riders and roughly 100 miles of trails used by hikers, cyclists and mountain bikers.
  • Park sites popular with boaters, anglers and campers on Lake Spokane (Long Lake) include  the Nine Mile Recreation Area and Long Lake Campground. The park is managing water access sites in Spokane, Stevens and Lincoln counties, including 2,000 acres of Avista land.
  • Park staff oversees the Little Spokane River Natural Area on the north side of Spokane, which attracts paddlers and hikers.
  • The Columbia Plateau Trail near Cheney also is under the jurisdiction of the park.
  • Most recently, Riverside was assigned to manage Steptoe Butte and Steptoe Battlefield sites in Whitman County.

Geocaching 101 class offered Wednesday

NAVIGATION — A free Geocaching 101 Class is set for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The class is geared to people who want to learn the basics of the engaging high-tech hide-and-seek game using GPS devices and a  World Wide Web full of clues and challenges.

The class will be held at the Cache Cave, 2324 E. Euclid Ave., Suite 204, in Spokane and conducted by shop owner Lisa Breitenfeldt.

Info: (509) 720-8382,  lisa@cache-advance.com.

State Parks pass can buy you a free lunch

PUBLIC LANDS — The value of a Washington state Discover Pass is going up.

The $30 annual pass, required on vehicles in state parks and many other state lands, also will be valid for a free sandwich at many SUBWAY® sandwich shops.   Most of Eastern Washington is left out of the deal, but if you're headed west of the Columbia River, take your Discover Pass and stay nourished.

The "Walk in the Park" promotion starts Saturday, June 14, (National Get Outdoors Day) and runs through Sept. 30 at all 435 SUBWAY® restaurants in 17 counties throughout Western Washington — King, Snohomish, Chelan, Clallam, Douglas, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, Kitsap, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Thurston and Whatcom.

Show your Discover Pass at the shop or at a state park in participating counties to receive a voucher for a free regular six-inch sandwich with the purchase of a regular six-inch sandwich of equal or greater value and a 30-ounce drink.

Geocaching game launched on region’s forests

GEOCACHING — The Colville National Forest and partners in the Upper Columbia region are setting up a summer geocaching game geared to families.

From Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day,  a number of easy to access geocaches will be located throughout the Colville National Forest and other participating adjacent lands designated as part of the Upper Columbia Children’s Forest.  .

Geocaching is like a treasure hunt using a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit.  You input the coordinates and the GPS unit leads you to the geocache. 

While the activities are geared to youths ages 8-12, all of the geocaches require driving to the recreation site followed by a short walk.  Navigating to and from the sites, helping out with reading maps and working the GPS is a great opportunity for everyone in the family.  There are opportunities to learn about how to read maps, how GPS works, and learning about wildlife, trees, plants and cultural history you will encounter along the way.

The geocaches are 6” x 6” plastic boxes that contain a card with information and a short activity specific to the recreation site.  Any child who can collect all of the cards and present them at the Kettle Falls Information Center will be able to claim a small prize. 

The Colville National Forest encourages visitors to practice the Leave No Trace Principals while exploring the Forest.  

Some GPS units are available to borrow at the Kettle Falls Information Center,  255 West 3rd, Kettle Falls, WA.  99141.  To ensure a unit is available, call (509) 738-2300.

If you want to play - go to www.geocaching.com and search “Upper Columbia Children’s Forest geocaches” and get the coordinates to input into your GPS Unit. 

For more Information on geocaching on the Colville National Forest,  visit www.fs.usda.gov/colville/ and look for geocaching under Quick Links, or call (509) 684-7000.

Washington seeks ideas on transforming outdoor recreation

The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Parks and Outdoor Recreation is accepting comments and ideas on how to engage and transform outdoor recreation throughout Washington. 

This effort, launched by Gov. Jay Inslee, involves state parks as well as other state lands, including wildlife areas.

Best to pay attention here. Your input is important.  

Please comment here. 


Volunteers sought to evaluate grants for parks, trails, boating, farm preservation

CONSERVATION — The Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) is looking for volunteers to evaluate grant applications and help decide where the next parks, trails and boat launches will go in the state, as well as help prioritize farmlands to conserve.

Volunteers will serve on advisory committees that will rank grant proposals in the spring and summer for farmland preservation and all types of recreation around the state.

“This is a great opportunity for people interested in the outdoors,” said Kaleen Cottingham, RCO director. “The volunteers get to see firsthand what will be happening around the state – what great new parks and trails will be proposed – and help the state decide the wisest places to invest state and federal dollars.”

Volunteers with expertise in project design or project management, landscape architecture, planning or engineering, permitting or property acquisition especially are encouraged to apply. Volunteers serve 4 years. Applications for the advisory committees will be accepted until the positions are filled.

Parks: Seven volunteers are needed to evaluate grant proposals in two different park grant programs.

  • Two volunteers are needed to evaluate grant requests in the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account program, which provides money to buy, improve and protect tidelands and shorelines for the public. The volunteers should be familiar with aquatic lands protection and restoration. Learn more about this committee.
  • Five volunteers are needed to evaluate grant proposals in the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program’s State Parks Category, which provides money to buy, develop and protect lands for state parks. Volunteers should have a statewide perspective on parks and recreation and come from nonprofit organizations, government agencies or be unaffiliated. The volunteers will evaluate grant requests from Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and will serve on the State Parks Advisory Committee. Fill out the online application.

Farmlands: Two volunteers are needed to evaluate grant proposals to preserve working farms in the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program’s Farmland Preservation category. Volunteers should be farmers actively managing farms or rangeland. They will serve on the Farmlands Preservation Advisory Committee. Learn more about this committee.

Trails: Three volunteers are needed to evaluate grant requests in two different trail grant programs.

Boating: Four volunteers are needed to evaluate grant requests in two programs that provide money to acquire or develop land for boating facilities. The volunteers should be active in motorized recreational boating. The volunteers are needed to evaluate grant proposals in the Boating Facilities Program and the Boating Infrastructure Grant program. Learn more about this committee.

To Apply: Submit a completed application and support materials to RCO by April 11. Online applications are available at www.rco.wa.gov/grants/advisory_cmte.shtml.

Information: Lorinda Anderson at 360-902-3009 

Washington state parks consider more commercialization

STATE PARKS — The public has until Tuesday, Jan. 7, to comment on a proposal to allow commercial advertising in the Washington state parks website.

At its next regular meeting on Jan. 23, the parks commission plans to approve a new Washington State Parks advertising policy to allow commercial advertising on digital and printed material, and to set criteria for any such advertising.

The draft advertising policy can be found online.

The proposed policy does not include commercial advertising in state parks, but only advertising on agency websites and select printed materials.

The public can comment online by Jan. 7. Comments will be given to the commission for consideration.

Washington State Parks host New Year’s Day hikes

HIKING – State Parks across Washington are sponsoring family-oriented New Year’s Day hikes to get the  year off on the right foot. Events in the Spokane area include:

Mount Spokane, 10 a.m. — Snowshoe along Trail 130 for a 2- to 4-mile, round-trip hike. Meet at the snowmobile parking lot. A Seasonal Sno-Park Permit and a Special Groomed Trail Permit or a One-Day Sno-Park Permit and a Discover Pass are required for vehicle access to the event. (Purchase Sno-Park permits online at www.parks.wa.gov/winter/) Snowshoes are required, and pets are allowed on a leash.

Riverside State Park, 1 p.m. — Take the foot bridge over the Spokane River for a hike on the Bowl and Pitcher River Trail. Participants will see the unique basalt rock formations cut by the Spokane River known as the Bowl and Pitcher. Meet in the Bowl and Pitcher swing bridge parking lot. Snowshoes may be required. Pets on leash are allowed. 

Geocaching store grand opening set for Saturday

GEOCACHING — Cache Advance, Inc., is opening the second geocaching retail store in the United States right here in Spokane.

The Cache Cave grand opening at 2324 E. Euclid Ave., Suite 204, is set for Saturday, Nov. 9, noon-5 p.m., with a ribbon cutting and geocaching flash mob at 1 p.m. 

  • If you're a geocacher, perhaps you'd prefer the coordinates: N 47° 41.140 W 117° 22.526

Owner Lisa Breitenfeldt started the business in 2005 largely for online sales to fill a niche for supplying the needs of geocaching enthusiasts triggered by the public availability of Global Positioning System navigation technology.

Geocaching is a high tech treasure hunt. Played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices or GPS enabled Smartphones, geocachers hide and/or locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share their experiences online.

Free-entry offered for state and federal parks, refuges on Saturday

PUBLIC LANDS — Saturday is a big day of freebies and stewardship on public lands throughout the region.

It's National Public Lands Day as well as National Hunting and Fishing Day.

Here are some opportunities to consider:

Washington State Parks are offering free vehicle access on Saturday — no Discover Pass is required.

Federal lands, including all National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges such as Turnbull are offering free entry on Saturday, one of 13 national lands Fee-Free Days in 2013.  The next will be Veterans Day Weekend (Nov. 9-11).

Hunting and fishing activities and information for newcomers to the sports will be offered by sportsmen's groups, 1 p.m.- 5 p.m. at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife regional office grounds, 2315 N. Discovery Pl. in Spokane Valley.   See story for more details. 

Spokane River Clean-Up, an annual event that attracts around 800 volunteers from individuals, families and groups, will spiff up sections of the river from 9 a.m.-noon followed by a barbecue. Get details and register online at friendsofthefalls.com.

Saturday a free day at state parks

Visitors to state parks won't need a Discover Pass on Saturday as the system holds one of its free days in honor of National Public Lands Day.

That means you won't need a $10 day pass or the $30 seasonal pass to go to one of the state's 142 parks. The department gets to declare up to 12 free days a year, and this is one of them.

Geocaching featured at Washington State Parks

OUTLOCATE – Geocacher’s have a new reason to find their way to Washington State Parks. To celebrate the state parks centennial, 100 geocaches have been hidden in 100 state parks.

Geocaches are containers stashed around the world with their GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates registered on a public website.

Each cache in the Washington State Parks Centennial GeoTour was placed by an active member of the local geocaching community and approved by a ranger at each park.

Centennial GeoTour players can download the GeoTour passport, map and guidelines.

Vehicles entering state parks must display a Washington Discover Pass.

Wash. state parks face grim future under Senate proposal

PARKS — State Parks were hurting when the 2013 Washington Legisature convene, and a bunch of them will be closing if the Senate doesn't scratch up some money to keep these valuable assets solvent.

The state budget as proposed by the Senate on Thursday — SSB 5034 — would CUT the state parks budget by more than $5 million and force the closure of some state parks.

A lot is at stake for Spokane area, where the quality of life is vastly enhanced by Mount Spokane and Riverside state parks, which also manage the Centennial Trail and Little Spokane Natural Area.

But under deep cuts inflicted on the agency over the past few years, Mount Spokane already has no ranger on duty two days a week. That situation would likely get worse under the current budget proposal, not to mention the 30 or so parks that would have to be closed.

"The governor’s proposed budget is much kinder to State Parks," said Cris Currie of the Friends of Mount Spokane State Park.

State Parks needs $27 million from the General Fund to keep the system functioning reasonably, said Jeff Lambert, conservation chair of the Spokane Mountaineers.  At this point, he said, "There is no long-range financial plan for State Parks."


Wash. state parks celebrates 100 years with free entry Saturday

PARKS — Washington State Parks were founded 100 years ago this month. In one of many treats and celebrations to come this year, the park system has designated Saturday a "free day:" vechicles will not be required to display the Discover Pass to visit a state park.

The State Parks and Recreation Commission selected most of its 2013 “free days” in conjunction with the National Park Service’s free days. State Parks’ remaining free day schedule for 2013 is as follows:
  • March 30 – in honor of Washington State Parks’ 100th birthday month
  • April 27 and 28 – National Parks Week
  • June 1 – National Trails Day
  • June 8 and 9 – National Get Outdoors Day
  • Aug. 4 – Peak season free day
  • Sept. 28 – National Public Lands Day
  • Nov. 9 -11 – Veterans Day weekend.
The “free days” are in keeping with legislation that created the Discover Pass, a $30 annual or $10 one-day permit required on state-managed recreation lands managed by Washington State Parks, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources.

Start the year off with a group hike in Riverside State Park

HIKING — Here's a way to rally on New Years Day:  Walk it off!

Riverside State Park in Spokane is among 13 parks in the state beckoning walkers to ring in the new year — and celebrate the 100th year of Washington State Parks — with a group hike.

The First Day hike begins Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. at the swinging bridge parking lot in the Bowl and Pitcher Area. Visitors will explore the Bowl and Pitcher River Trail and see the dramatic winter whitewater rapids of the Spokane River. The hike is open to participants of all ages. On-leash dogs are allowed.

State Parks’ partner and friends groups will provide hot chocolate for hike participants. Hikers are encouraged to pack water and dress according to weather conditions.

See more information about specific First Day Hikes across the state.

State Parks offer free entry on Saturday

PARKS — To recognize National Public Lands Day on Saturday, Washington State Parks are offering free entry: The Discover Pass is not required.

Saturday is one of 12 "free days" offered at State Parks each year.  The final 2012 State Parks free days are scheduled for Nov. 10-12 during the Veteran’s Day holiday weekend.

Other activies recognizing the day include the annual:

Spokane River Cleanup

Dishman Hills Service Day

Natural, cultural history displayed at Dry Falls

 NATURAL HISTORY — Natural and cultural history of the Dry Falls area will be presented in displays by the Wanapum Heritage Center and the Ice Age Floods Institute on Saturday (Sept. 8), 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at the Dry Falls State Park Visitor Center south of Coulee City, Wash.

Visitors can explore the Wanapum Native American Discovery Unit and talk with tribal educators about the rich history of the Wanapum tribe.

Learn about the historic floods that shaped North America through an interpretive display by the Ice Age Floods Institute.

Admission is free. The Discover Pass is required for vehicle access to the event.

See map here.

Read on for more details.

Beacon Hill trails get $4K boost from REI

PARKS — Trail rehabilitation and restoration projects around Beacon Hill and Camp Sekani are getting a boost from the REI store in Spokane.

The store's presented $4,464 to the Spokane Parks & Recreation board for use in the popular mountain biking and hiking area. 

This is the last of three community grant part checks REI has awarded for 2012, a year of record giving through the program, said Carol Christensen, REI outreach specialist in Spokane.

 In addition to the Parks & Rec Foundation, REI awarded $10,000 to the Friends of the Centennial Trail and $10,000 to the Riverside State Park Foundation.  

That's a total $24,464 boost to popular local outdoor recreation destinations.

"REI’s mission, 'To inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship,' is what drives the market-based grant program," Christensen said.

The Friends of the Centennial Trail and Riverside State Park Foundation pooled a portion of the grant funding to hire a volunteer coordinator to “recruit, train, and supervise volunteers to perform repairs, maintenance, and cleanup of the Centennial Trail, including campgrounds, recreation sites, and cultural sites and to create and maintain a database of volunteers.”

All three organizations have already been active in getting volunteers on the trails with more than 150 hours logged through the volunteer coordination program and several trail projects completed at Beacon Hill/Camp Sekani.

Get involved with these organizations by contacting Jake Graham at Riverside State Park, email riverside@parks.wa.gov , or Mike Aho at Spokane Parks and Rec, maho@spokanecity.org.

Info: Carol  Christensen, cchrist@rei.com.

Governor candidates fuzzy on state parks funding solution

OLYMPIA — Regarding the state's cherished park system, the two men vying to be Washington's next governor are of the same opinion — it needs public funding.

They're just not sure on how much money to commit.
Read this Everett Herald story on what candidates Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna say about the future of the Wasington State Parks system.
In case you've been sleeping for the past three years, Washington State Parks are in a dire funding crisis, as this recent S-R story reports.
Read on for sobering perspective from a state wildlife commissioner.

Discover Riverside State Park during Sunday open house

STATE PARKS — Special activities at five venues are scheduled Sunday, (June 24),  10 a.m.-3 p.m., to introduce the public to features and recreation available in Riverside State Park on the west side of Spokane. 

The required Discover Pass will be available for purchase from staff and volunteers. Venues include:

Bowl and Pitcher Area, 4427 North Aubrey L. White Parkway – Hiking and biking information; a free beginner orienteering course; displays, wildlife presentations and children’s activities.

Nine Mile Recreation Area, 11226 West Charles Rd – Canoeing and kayaking activities with boats for loan, boating safety expert, bass and fly fishing info, Lake Spokane presentations.

Equestrian Area, Aubrey L. White Parkway off Government Way – Tour riding trails and new campground facilities; free pony rides for kids under 75 pounds.

Spokane House Interpretive Center, off Highway 291 just west of Nine Mile Dam – Indoor and outdoor museum exhibits and demonstrations about the early fur trade.

Off-Road Vehicle Area, 9412 N. Inland Road – All-terrain vehicle test drives, ride-alongs with expert ORV drivers and displays featuring ORV gear.

More information: riversidestatepark.org.

Washington State Parks still plotting a future

STATE PARKS — Should the State Parks system operate more like an enterprise-based hospitality industry, a public conservation asset based mostly on grant and tax funding – or perhaps a system of parks freely standing as community non-profit entities? What do people love about their park system, and what improvements need to be made?

Parks officials asked those questions at public meetings in Spokane last month as they gather info for big decisions to be made later. The statewide meetings are continuing this week in Western Washington.

People who love state parks should get involved now.  Comments are being accepted online.

Get up to speed here.

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.

State Parks needs volunteer hosts

STATE PARKS —Volunteer hosts are being sought for some Washington State Parks, officials say.

The hosts greet visitors, assist park staff and perform a variety of duties in return free camping and hookups. Host assignments range from 30-90 days.

Details and host openings are online at www.parks.wa.gov/volunteers.

Info: (360) 902-8612; email Cindy.Jorgensen@parks.wa.gov.

Volunteers needed to score recreation grant requests

OUTDOOR RECREATION — The Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office is looking for nearly 70 volunteers to help determine how millions of dollars in state grants should be spent in Washington’s great outdoors.

The volunteers will score grant applications submitted in two statewide programs: 

  • The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which provides grants to build and renovate parks and trails, and to protect and restore valuable wildlife habitat and farmland.
  • The Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, which provides grants to restore Washington shorelines and create access for people to the waterfront.

The grants are awarded to cities, counties, state agencies, tribes and others.

Read on for details.

Free admission to state parks March 18-19

PUBLIC LANDS — This weekend will be a freebie at Washington state parks, which will be offering free admission four times this year.

The first set of free days will be March 18-19 in honor of the park system’s 99th birthday on March 19.

Other scheduled "free" days are June 9, Sept. 29 and Nov. 10-12.

On these days, the Discover Pass will not be required to visit a state park. But the Discover Pass still will be required to access lands managed by the state departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife on the free park days.

The cost for the Discover Pass is $10 a day or $30 a year (some transaction fees might be charged).

Milestone: 100,000 boaters complete safety course

BOATING — The Washington State Boating Program reached a milestone in its mandatory boater education program last week, issuing card number 100,000.

David Eckols of Seattle won tickets to a Seattle Seahawks game for being the 100,000th boater card recipient.

See my recent column pointing out that since January, all Washington powerboat drivers age 40 and and younger must  have a boater education card to operate a boat powered by a 15 horsepower motor or larger.

Last year, the Boating Programs recorded 17 boating fatalities, the lowest number in 10 years. According to Washington State Parks Director, Don Hoch, educated boaters are less likely to be involved in boating accidents than non-educated boaters.

“Since the program started in 2008 we have had an outstanding compliance rate,” says Hoch. “The great news is that we are starting to see a reduction in boating fatalities, property damage and injuries. We hope this trend continues.”

Read on for more details about Washington boater education requirement.

Bill would make Discover Pass valid for two vehicles

PUBLIC LANDS — The Washington State Senate Energy, Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee Monday (Jan. 9) voted unanimously to refer a bill to the Ways and Means Committee that would make the Discover Pass transferable between two vehicles.

The Discover Pass was established by the 2011 Legislature as a vehicle access requirement for state parks and most other state lands in an effort to raise funding for state park management.

Under the proposed legislation, the cost would remain the same, but the pass would be transferable between two vehicles at the same address.

The Discover Pass is required on vehicles to access state parks, heritage sites, wildlife and natural areas, and any recreation lands or water-access sites managed by Washington State Parks, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Under current law, the Discover Pass costs $30 annually and $10 for a daily pass per vehicle.

The current fine for not displaying a Discover Pass on a vehicle while on state recreation land or a water-access site is $99.

Read on for more details from reporter Maida Suljevic of the Washington Newspaper Publishers News Bureau in Olympia.