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Riverfront and center: Spokane park nabs spot on National Geographic list of beautiful urban parks

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 25, 2020

The light show begins during the opening of the newly renovated U.S. Pavilion on Sept. 6, 2019, at Riverfront Park, which was recently named one of the country’s most beautiful urban parks by National Geographic.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
The light show begins during the opening of the newly renovated U.S. Pavilion on Sept. 6, 2019, at Riverfront Park, which was recently named one of the country’s most beautiful urban parks by National Geographic. (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

Spokanites need no convincing that Riverfront Park is a gem.

But the rest of the world was clued in last week when National Geographic included Riverfront Park in its online list of “some of America’s most beautiful urban parks.”

The listicle’s three-sentence description of Riverfront Park includes shoutouts to its garbage-eating goat, the oversized Radio Flyer Wagon and light shows at the newly renovated U.S. Pavilion that debuted last year.

Riverfront Park was accompanied on the list by peers like White River State Park in Indianapolis, which is not centered around a 150-foot tall spire bejeweled with glittering lights; Barnsdall Art Park in Los Angeles, which does not feature a ribbon for roller skating and ice skating year -round; and Julia Davis Park in Boise, which can not claim host to the thundering roar of a mighty river that has sustained generations of the community around it.

Though appearance lists like these may seem a bit arbitrary, they’re not by coincidence.

Kate Hudson, Visit Spokane’s public relations manager, saw weeks ago that the article’s author was working on a story about urban parks and emailed her with a quick pitch about Riverfront. It’s all part of Hudson’s and Visit Spokane’s goal to market the region, even though those efforts often don’t result in the kind of attention lavished on Spokane by National Geographic.

“Chances are, if you see Spokane mentioned in a magazine like National Geographic or a travel piece in USA Today or a spread in a seatback magazine on an airplane, it came from Visit Spokane,” Hudson said.

Not only can the positive press help push potential visitors to the Northwest to stop in Spokane, it can help bring in conventions and other events, Hudson said.

Rather than rest on its laurels, the city has worked doggedly to preserve and improve Riverfront Park, which was largely unchanged since its creation for Expo ’74. The park is nearing the end of a yearslong transformation that aims to solidify its prominence in Spokane for decades to come.

The park’s redevelopment has included renovation or construction of the U.S. Pavilion, Numerica Skate Ribbon and SkyRide, and Looff Carrousel.

The final major component of renovation, a $9.3 million regional playground nestled on the bank of the Spokane River, is under construction and is scheduled for completion in the spring. A second, inclusive playground aimed at children of all abilities is slated for completion later this year.

The updated work was financed by Spokane’s taxpayers, who approved a $64 million dollar bond in 2014.

Like many of the city’s 87 parks, Riverfront Park has continued to see traffic despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve seen people playing music, using all kinds of wheels, kids are rolling down the grass hills – people are using the park as a place to escape, and for mental and physical health,” said Fianna Dickson, a parks department spokeswoman.

It was not the first time Spokane was given a nod on National Geographic’s website. The city was included in the media outlet’s 2018 list of reader-suggested “brilliant places for fall foliage around the world.”

“I think the best part is seeing the community sharing the link on social media,” Hudson said. “Knowing that I did that, knowing that I brought joy and pride to people who call Spokane home, it makes me so happy.”

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