When the new plaza across Spokane Falls Boulevard from the downtown library opens today, it will be lauded as a new gathering place for the people of Spokane – especially those who enjoy a commanding view of the pounding lower falls of the Spokane River.
But it also marks the near-completion of the Spokane Gorge Loop trail.
Since 2013, the city has embarked on a project to build the 3.5-mile loop downtown, an idea first hatched in 1908 as part of a master plan for the city’s park system.
It’s no coincidence the trail is nearly done just as the city is wrapping up its work to stop sewage and stormwater from entering the Spokane River through a $300 million infrastructure program building massive underground tanks throughout the city. The plaza, after all, sits on the biggest of those tanks.
Unlike the plaza, however, the trail does not have a known end date.
One last piece of its puzzle remains outstanding and is evident in the ramp to nowhere coming off the north face of the plaza. Walk down it, and you’ll see where it’s supposed to go: under the Monroe Street Bridge and between the river and the Spokane Club.
“We’re working on that final piece of the trail,” said Marlene Feist, a city spokeswoman, who estimated the trail project would take longer than two years to finish. “We’ve been talking to the Spokane Club. We haven’t reached an agreement.”
John O’Connor, general manager of the club, confirmed that the club was talking to the city.
“We are exploring opportunities but are still in discussions with the city,” O’Connor said in an email. “I’m sorry but I cannot provide any information at this time.”
The lack of completion doesn’t dampen Andy Dunau’s spirits. Dunau, executive director of the Spokane River Forum, said the “loop trail is going to be really fantastic.” Even unfinished, he said there’s plenty to celebrate today.
Redband Park, formerly Glover Field, has a new boat launch that was installed earlier this year. The foundations have been poured for Redband Plaza and, next month, a redband sculpture will be installed, completing the trifecta of trout recognition.
Beyond that, Dunau pointed to the progress on the Peaceful Valley Trail, which acts as the southern segment of the loop trail. The milelong trail wiggles its way through the Peaceful Valley neighborhood, one of the oldest in Spokane. The project is funded by two state Recreation and Conservation Office grants worth about $1.1 million, and the total cost of the Peaceful Valley segment is more than $2 million.
Even this trail is connected to the city’s sewage and stormwater work. Work on a 50,000-gallon stormwater tank in Peaceful Valley laid the first parts of the trail.
When the Peaceful Valley trail is completed next year, users will be able to start at the Redband Park trailhead, travel downstream on the trail and then cross the river at the Sandifur Bridge, climb the bank and hook up with the Centennial Trail on the return leg.
There, on the north bank of the river, the Gorge Loop trail will continue as part of the Centennial Trail, which was built in 2013 by a partnership between the city and Greenstone Corp., the developer of the booming housing and retail district, Kendall Yards. The city used a $2 million state grant to buy 2.7 acres of land along the gorge from Greenstone, and Greenstone used the grant purchase to build the trail.
Heading east, the trail jogs under the Monroe Street Bridge and across the Post Street Bridge, which has been off-limits to automobiles since May after a structural analysis deemed it too weak to carry the load. The city had planned to begin replacing the bridge this year, but steel tariffs and lumber costs added an estimated $4 million to the $22 million the city budgeted for the project. Now, Feist said, the city will bid the project out next year.
After crossing the bridge, the trail will go by Huntington Park, a joint project between the city and Avista Corp. that created a plaza next to City Hall in 2014, before returning to the new plaza by the library.
“For both residents and visitors, they can knock themselves out,” Dunau said. “It’s a really nice coming together and it’s going to be a really nice centerpiece for the city. We’re truly reconnecting the city with the river.”
It’s about time.
The General Plan of the Park System was written after John Charles Olmsted visited the city in 1907 and 1908. The plan, which cost $1,000, has helped guide the city’s park system since its creation, and it included a recommendation to build a Great Gorge Park, declaring the Spokane River gorge “a tremendous feature of the landscape and one which is rarer in a large city than river, lake, bay or mountain.”
A century of industrialization in Spokane yoked the river to the Inland Northwest’s vast mining and timber operations. It was another 30 years after the river was given new life by Expo ’74 before the concept of a gorge trail and park was revived in 2005 by the Friends of the Falls, which drafted the Great Spokane River Gorge Master Plan.
Still, the idea went nowhere until Kendall Yards jump-started the plan with its segment of the trail. Since then, gangbusters.
Considering the idea languished for a century, it’s hard to believe the trail has nearly been completed in a six-year span. However, the trail remains unfinished, a fact underlined today, as the city marks the end of the $25 million project to build a 2.2-million-gallon sewer and stormwater tank by the downtown Spokane Public Library, which has the plaza on top.
But it’s not really the end.
Feist said the plaza likely will be closed for the winter, allowing the concrete to cure and avoid any damage snow-melting chemicals would cause. In addition, while the tank is done, the main pipe bringing sewage to the tank is not.
Regardless, not long from now, people will stand astride the voluminous storage container connected to downtown’s many toilets, and not even know it. However, they will know all about the trail, as it courses through downtown and around the Spokane River, giving a tour of one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, skirting one of its newest, all the while offering grand views of its namesake chasm and entry to the river.
If and when it’s done.
Editor’s note: This story was changed on Oct. 25 to correct the spelling of Andy Dunau’s name.