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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Keeping up with trail upkeep

"We're hard core," Veronica Stevens says as she jogs in the fresh snow with her dogs Shelby and Edgar on the Centennial Trail on Sunday morning. (Liz Kishimoto / The Spokesman-Review)

If a tree falls on the Centennial Trail when no one’s around, does it make a sound? Probably, but the more important question might be: Who’s going to pick it up?

The 6.8-mile stretch of the trail that runs through the city of Spokane Valley currently doesn’t have an official caretaker. Spokane County’s contract to maintain Spokane Valley parks, including the trail, expired Dec. 31, and the city’s current park-maintenance contract with a private company doesn’t include trail maintenance.

Spokane Valley and other jurisdictions’ park officials said they’re confident the trail won’t suffer, but it’s unknown how long it will take to hire someone to clean the bathrooms, pick up litter and do other maintenance.

“We’re going to make sure the trail is clean and safe,” Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation Director Mike Jackson said. “At this time of year, the maintenance is lower than in the summer months.”

Typical winter jobs include removing fallen trees and plowing snow from the trailheads, said Spokane County Parks and Recreation Director Doug Chase. Tasks multiply in the spring and summer when the trail must be sprayed for weeds, grass must be mowed and litter must be collected more often. The trail’s bathrooms are open year-round, so they must also be maintained.

The county had maintained the Spokane Valley leg of the trail for the first 21 months of the city’s existence. This fall, it lost a bid for the city’s park maintenance contract to Senske Lawn and Tree Care Co.

The county still maintains the trail through unincorporated parts of the county.

Jackson said he’s in talks with Senske to add routine trail maintenance to its current contract.

The question of who maintains the trail also is a question of ownership. A one-mile stretch of the path near Myrtle Point, across the Spokane River from Plantes Ferry County Park, was inherited by the new city of Spokane Valley from Spokane County. The city of Spokane owns the entire portion of the trail through its boundaries, and the state owns the remainder of the Washington leg of the trail, including almost six miles in the city of Spokane Valley.

In September, the Washington state Parks and Recreation Commission sent Spokane Valley a letter asking if the new city wanted to join an agreement with the commission, Spokane and the county that outlines ownership and management of the trail for the next 27 years.

Since the City Council hadn’t decided yet what role it wanted in that agreement, it left trail maintenance out of the park maintenance contract, Jackson said.

The council is weighing its options. It could participate in the agreement in a limited way, which might cost up to $35,000 a year. It could participate fully, becoming responsible for major trail repairs that could cost $200,000 or more. Or it could choose the cost-free option: not participating at all, which would leave unanswered the question of how the trail is maintained, and by whom.

Jackson is studying the alternatives and plans to report back to the council.

Wayne McLaughlin, of the state parks and recreation commission, said it would be a “natural thing” for the city to take over maintenance of that stretch of the trail.

“We believe the trail is a real amenity to the community,” he said. “It has economic benefits to the new city as well.”

Gary Vierra, assistant manager of Riverside State Park and the trail, said it’s too early to worry about the trail’s upkeep.

“It hasn’t been very long” since the county contract expired, he said. Plus, Vierra said, none of the entities that care for the popular path will let it deteriorate.

“One way or another it’s going to be maintained,” he said.

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