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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State Parks centennial celebration Saturday at Riverside Park

Riverside State Park has been tapped for one of two signature events celebrating the 100-year history of the Washington State Parks system.

On Saturday, the Bowl and Pitcher area will come alive with a festival of events, food, music and activities. Another signature event will be held Aug. 3 in Puget Sound at Deception Pass State Park.

Riverside State Park, the priceless recreational preserve branching out from Spokane’s core, is appropriately spotlighted in the Centennial 2013 celebration, said park manager Chris Guidotti.

“We’re the largest park area in the state, with sites we manage in four counties,” he said.

Part of that “largest” distinction is the bittersweet result of budget cuts that have left state parks with fewer rangers to spread out among 117 sites in the system.

Riverside State Park’s staff, including just seven full-time rangers, manages 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.

The 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 and roughly 100 miles of trails used by hikers, cyclists and mountain bikers.

The new equestrian camp, still being developed with a lot of volunteer help, including donations of materials, is generating interest across the state, Guidotti said.

In addition, the park manages the Nine Mile Resort and Long Lake Campground on Lake Spokane popular with boaters, anglers and campers. The park is managing water access sites in Spokane, Stevens and Lincoln counties, including 2,000 acres of Avista land, Guidotti said.

The park staff oversees the Little Spokane River Natural Area on the north side of Spokane, which attracts paddlers and hikers, and the Columbia Plateau Trail near Cheney.

Most recently, Riverside was assigned to manage Steptoe Butte and Steptoe Battlefield sites in Whitman County.

“The future of state parks still isn’t clear, with at least three different funding scenarios being debated in Olympia,” said Cindy Whaley of Spokane, who has served on the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission since 2009.

“But the centennial is a big deal we need to celebrate. Washington’s parks system is one of the oldest in the nation,” she said, noting it predates the National Park System by four years.

“It’s a symbol of the value cities put on public land and the economic value generated by the great outdoors areas in our state.”

The Discover Pass vehicle parking requirement enacted by the Legislature in 2011 has not generated the revenue needed to sustain the state parks system, she said.

“At this point we haven’t closed any parks; that’s a positive,” she said. “We certainly sustained bitter cuts. It’s a testament to the parks staff and their hard work and creativity for making do with less.”

The State Parks system includes 117 developed parks and about 120,000 acres of park lands. About one-third of the land has been donated by citizens over the years.

Organized groups such as the Riverside State Park Foundation are helping keep the parks updated and maintained as staff has been reduced, Guidotti said.

The REI store in Spokane donated $10,000 last year to fund a part-time volunteer coordinator for the park. “The position proved to be so valuable, REI is stepping up to fund the position again this year as well as $5,000 to the Centennial Trail,” Guidotti said. “They’ll present a check on Saturday.”

“We need all the muscle we can get to keep our parks strong,” Whaley said.