As Coeur d’Alene residents and tourists splash in Lake Coeur d’Alene and soak up sun on the beach today, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and North Idaho College will celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the preservation of Yap-Keehn-Um Beach.
A battle against a proposed condominium development spurred the college’s efforts to buy the beach near the head of the Spokane River, one of the largest public access spots on Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“Every time I see people down there playing and swimming, I reminisce,” said NIC political science instructor Tony Stewart, who led the effort to save the beach from becoming the private playground of condo owners. “There’s so many people living here who don’t know any of this story.”
In 1972, Pack River Properties proposed building luxury condominiums at the site, about 30 to 50 feet from the shoreline. Stewart, then in his second year at NIC, organized a community group to fight the proposal. Five years later, North Idaho College purchased the beach, forever preserving it for public use.
The 3,410-square-foot beach, which ends at the DeArmond Mill site, was purchased for $260,000 using a combination of NIC, county, state and federal funds. It’s now worth between $25 million and $50 million, Stewart said.
The beach became Yap-Keehn-Um Beach in 1987 to honor the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which historically used the beach as a summer gathering spot.
Today’s celebration will mark not only the anniversary of the beach purchase but the 20-year anniversary of the renaming.
“It’s to remind people that the beach is still there and it will always be there – not privatized … it’s for everybody,” said tribal member Norma Peone.
A new rose garden in Fort Sherman Park will be dedicated to the tribe, part of a nine-point plan penned in 1997 that calls for projects like the garden, a longhouse, Coeur d’Alene Tribal Awareness Week and the naming of buildings and other campus infrastructure after tribal leaders.
Coeur d’Alene attorney Scott W. Reed chaired the NIC board at the time of the condo proposal and prepared legal arguments against it, which Stewart said he read at protests and meetings.
But the arguments never were invoked. No court battles ensued. No City Council votes were taken. The community outcry over the proposal – 3,500 petition signatures were gathered in two weeks – shut down the proposal in about six months, said Reed, who will speak at today’s event.
“It just died down,” he said. “I think they recognized there was a terrible controversy.”
NIC purchased the beach from financially troubled Pack River in 1977. DeArmond Mill’s Bob DeArmond helped negotiate the price down from $900,000, Stewart said.
“I think he well recognized the need that the college had,” Reed said.
The Winton Lumber Co. owned the NIC beach and portions of the campus before deeding the campus to Kootenai County in 1937 and the beach to Pack River. The agreement between the Winton family and the county mandates the campus be used for education or medical purposes with public open space.
“(Former NIC President) Michael Burke used to get calls from developers from Spokane asking him to move (NIC) to the prairie and sell the beach for high-rises,” Stewart said. “They had no idea it’s (the campus) here forever, it couldn’t be sold, period.”
That agreement didn’t apply to the beach when the condos were proposed, but NIC owns a portion of the road separating the campus from the beach. So even if the beach had been developed, NIC would control the access road, Stewart said, making the community’s case against the development solid.
Stewart discussed that point when arguing against the condo proposal.
“In my humor, I said ‘I guess you can helicopter in and out,’ ” he said.
NIC and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe planned the celebration to coincide with the Julyamsh powwow. Tribes from across the country were invited to the beach anniversary ceremony.
“It such an incredibly wonderful victory,” Stewart said. “I call it the second Alaska purchase.”
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