Two weeks ago I was skiing in the North Idaho backcountry, floating through knee-deep powder.
Last weekend, I climbed in the desert high above a lake in a setting reminiscent of a travel brochure.
For neither trip did I drive more than two hours from Spokane.
It’s a geographic reality that still catches me by surprise: We seem to live within two, maybe three, hours of most every style of outdoor adventure.
Skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling to your north (and east). Year-round climbing and hiking to the west. Hunting and fishing in between. A river flowing through the heart of downtown and trails within a 10-minute drive of most neighborhoods.
Those facts of Spokane life, among many other things, are attracting more people to this region. It’s a part of living here that is explicitly used to advertise this city, whether it’s the #HackingWashington campaign or through social media and word-of-mouth.
I have seen friends move back – after sojourns in Seattle or elsewhere – and remark ecstatically about the outdoor access.
But that proximity and increasing awareness comes with challenges and tensions. Namely, how do we balance a wholehearted enthusiasm for sharing the joys of outdoor recreation with an ever-growing population?
As the outdoors editor at The Spokesman-Review, I’m keenly aware of this balance. A large part of my job is sharing the wealth, so to speak. The Trip of the Month column is all about highlighting local areas worth exploring.
But I’m also aware that publicity can wreck a place. Think of the Cascades: Certain trails, during certain times of the year, feature conga lines of selfie-snapping humans. Nobody wants to see that happen here.
One response to this fear is to hide the goods. Keep them secret, keep them safe, so the argument goes. While I think there is some validity in not posting or writing about every wonderful place you visit, ultimately this isn’t a sustainable, or fair, strategy.
Hiding gems from “newcomers” is just another form of a “Not In My Back Yard” attitude. It’s both immoral and ineffective. The newcomers will continue to come, and they will continue to recreate.
It’s more useful and effective to create a local outdoor culture that is accessible to all and rooted in a strong ethic of service and respect for the land.
Local groups are doing just that. Groups like the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy, Evergreen East, the Bower Climbing Coalition, the Dishman Hills Conservancy and the Idaho Trails Association work with land managers to prepare and adapt to the continued influx of people.
Locally, Spokane County and Spokane Parks and Recreation are hoping to disperse trail users by creating multiple trailheads while also acquiring more land. Web cameras at several county trailheads allow users to check and see if the parking lot is full and plan accordingly.
All that takes support.
Consider the new plan to save Beacon Hill from development. To purchase that land, the city and county hope to get $1.5 million in grants. Just as important to the success of that project is the commitment Evergreen East members have made to maintain Beacon Hill and its trails if it’s purchased by the county and city.
The news reported by the Idaho Statesman’s Nicole Blanchard that Idaho State Parks and Recreation is going to cut back on marketing in response to a rapid increase in recreation should concern us all.
But what it shouldn’t do is make us more defensive and territorial.
It should prompt reflection on how and where we recreate. It should push us all toward being more involved, in whatever way we can, with our local recreation community.
Local journalism is essential.
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