The Spokane Tribe and several environmental groups are appealing to Gov. Jay Inslee to stop a planned expansion of downhill skiing at Mount Spokane State Park.
The Washington Parks and Recreation Commission voted in late 2014 to allow Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park to install a chairlift and create seven new runs on the mountain’s northwest face.
The ski resort is finalizing permits from Spokane County, which would allow some of the logging to begin this winter, said Brad McQuarrie, the resort’s manager. His goal is to have the seven runs open by the 2016-17 ski season, with the chairlift in operation for the 2017-18 season.
McQuarrie said the expansion plan was carefully designed to minimize disturbance to the natural area, while allowing the resort to create new groomed runs for intermediate-level skiers.
“Some would call it a model for ski area development,” he said, noting that the state’s plan requires Mt. Spokane to leave islands of trees between the 79 acres of new runs, and prohibits construction during the April to August nesting season for birds.
But the Spokane Tribe and others say the new runs will affect the appearance of the beloved mountain in Spokane’s backyard and extend into the largest, unbroken tract of subalpine habitat remaining in Spokane County. They want the governor to ask the state commission to reconsider its decision allowing the ski resort expansion to move forward.
“We’ve been trying to get the state Parks and Recreation Commission to understand the value of this area on Mount Spokane,” said John Roskelley, a former Spokane County commissioner. “It’s too valuable to cut up and fragment for another ski run.”
David Browneagle, vice chairman of the Spokane Tribe, said some of the tribe’s creation stories are tied to Mount Spokane.
“We have a responsibility to take care of what’s been given to us, and I’m not just talking about Native American people,” Browneagle said Wednesday during a news conference in Riverfront Park.
“Have your ski resort, make your money and ski on the other side of the mountain that’s already been devastated,” he added. “To me, that’s a healthy compromise.”
Opponents of the resort expansion also tried to block construction of the new runs through the courts. They recently appealed a Spokane County Superior Court decision in November that denied their request for reconsideration of the expansion approval.
“I have confidence in the governor,” said Glenn Ford, a Spokane tribal council member. “He’s been very respectful to the tribes. We’ll at least get an ear from him.”
Inlsee’s office declined to comment Wednesday, noting that the issue is in litigation.
In addition to the tribe, the expansion is also opposed by The Lands Council, the Spokane Audubon Society and the Spokane Mountaineers.
Mt. Spokane officials said the expansion will help the resort bring in new revenue so it can continue providing affordable, family-friendly skiing opportunities. The expansion plans went through years of scrutiny and a transparent public process, said McQuarrie, the manager.
People have been skiing the backside of Mount Spokane for 40 years, he said. The expansion will create groomed runs and allow the ski patrol better access to backcountry areas, McQuarrie said.
If Mt. Spokane can cut the new runs this winter, they should be ready for skiing next winter, but people will have to ski to the Chairlift 4 road to use that lift to get back up the mountain, McQuarrie said. Installing the new chairlift will take two construction seasons because of restrictions to protect wildlife habitat, he said.
Mount Spokane 2000, which operates the ski resort, is the largest concessionaire in the state parks system. Jim Meyer is president of the nonprofit’s board of directors. He’s the husband of Betsy Cowles, chairwoman of Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.
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