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Wednesday, October 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Special to The Spokesman-Review: Expansion of ski area is best for all

Leslie R. Weatherhead

The Washington State Parks Commission invited comments upon a draft environmental impact statement related to a proposal to open up additional terrain for skiing at Mount Spokane State Park. Here is mine:

I unreservedly support the proposed expansion of the Mt. Spokane ski area. Thus, I support whichever alternative under consideration will best serve the purpose of expanding the ski area to make more terrain available to skiers.

I am an environmentalist. I love the outdoors, the trees and the creatures that inhabit the outdoors. I also love people, and I believe that people’s lives are enriched by being connected to the outdoors in meaningful ways – and that people’s appreciation and support for the environment are increased by opportunities to be connected.

Skiing is a wonderful way for people of all kinds to be connected meaningfully to their natural environment. And I do mean “all kinds” of people. It pleases me to no end, when skiing at Mt. Spokane, to see blind skiers and disabled skiers as well as numerous people like me who see age 40 only dimly in the rearview mirror. None of us will ever ski in the backcountry; you might as well fence it off. And that is no way to run a park.

Wild lands have their place. But the intent and the very nature of wild lands is to exclude most people. I noticed at the presentations relating to the proposed expansion of the ski area that many of those opposing expansion and supporting a very restrictive designation for the land are in their 20s, in outstanding physical shape and appear to represent the view that they should have access to ski in the backcountry, but maybe others should not. Others appear to represent the view that no one should have access to the land, and that it should be reserved exclusively for the use of the wild creatures that live there.

I respectfully submit that neither is an appropriate point of view for public park lands, especially not these lands, given their unique history. Public park lands should not be the exclusive preserve of young, athletic outdoorsmen; nor should people be excluded.

Parks serve an essential need for the human species, to connect people to their natural environment, and few parks do so more beautifully than ski areas. Though it is no doubt a good thing that there are areas far from ready access by urban people that are reserved strictly for animals, this land is park land and should be open for people to use.

The history of the land at Mount Spokane State Park, or most of it at any rate, is that it was donated to the public by owners who held it for logging but wanted to see it used for skiing, a sport to which they were devoted. Opponents of expansion of the ski hill are quick to argue that the donors did not put any qualifying language in their deed of gift specifying that the land was to be used for skiing, but that is a legalistic haggle: The donors were known to be ski enthusiasts, and they gave their land to the State Parks Department, at a time when no one would have imagined that a serious argument could be made that a state park should be closed to the people whose park it is (there was no environmental movement as we now know it).

The importance of wildlife has not been ignored: The proposals have been studied and mitigation has been provided for any predictable adverse impact on natural species living in the area. The law governing environmental impacts also says that environmental studies must also consider the human impacts of decisions.

I respectfully submit that both nature and people are best served by letting people use this park to ski in.

Leslie R. Weatherhead is a Spokane attorney and avid skier.
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