Years ago, Cris Currie made a personal choice that’s had a decidedly public impact.
He and his wife decided to not have kids and to not work more than part time.
“That freed us both financially and timewise to do other thing that we thought were more important,” Currie, 66, said.
For some, that decision may have spiraled into a egocentric existence focused on making money or bagging the next adventure. Instead, he’s poured the time, money and love that might have gone to a child into a 5,887-foot summit on the southern end of the Selkirk Range.
“When we moved here in 1979, I just fell in love with Mount Spokane,” Currie said. “I went up there a lot. I figured out where all the trails went and I mapped them and I just got to know it on the ground really well.”
When Currie (who worked as a nurse for 20 years) retires next month from the Friends of Mt. Spokane State Park, a group which he helped found in 1995, he will leave larger than normal boots to fill.
In addition to being the president since the group’s creation, he’s dedicated countless hours to trail work, advocacy and meetings. He’s written two books about the mountain and its history. He’s shepherded the group, and the mountain’s sometimes quarreling user groups, through contentious decisions whether it was the expansion of the ski resort, an effort back in the 1990s to turn the mountain into a Natural Forest Area or the development of a trail plan.
“It’s hard to even think of all the ways Cris has had an impact up there. He’s been devoted to Mount Spokane State Park for so many years,” said Holly Weiler, the Washington Trail Association’s regional trail manager and a board member of the friends group. “He’s been such a force up there. He’s single-handedly done so much stuff.”
Other board members echoed Weiler.
Anita Boyden, a board member who has served alongside Currie since 1995, said his ability to look beyond his own interests made him the ideal board president.
“He cared about the public and their users and what they wanted. Not only himself,” she said. “When you love something as much as he does, you take pride in it.”
Rich Landers, the longtime outdoors editor at The Spokesman-Review, saw firsthand, year after year, Currie’s dedication.
“From pulling knapweed on Ragged Ridge and chain-sawing blown-down trees, to moving fire lookouts, researching park history, designing trails and enduring public meetings, Cris has given buckets of sweat and countless hours to the stewardship of Mount Spokane. More than anyone I can think of,” Landers wrote in an email. “He knows the mountain like his backyard and has used his expertise to help sort out the competing demands of user groups such as snowmobilers, skiers, mountain bikers, hikers and the wildlife that call the mountain home. Park managers have come and gone in the past three decades, but Cris has been there year after year as the state park’s voice of experience, perspective and reason.”
In addition to the passion and time, Currie was also uniquely qualified to navigate the various user groups and interests. He earned a master of arts degree in conflict resolution from Antioch University, skills he’s used often in service to Mount Spokane.
“There has been a lot of frustrations along the way,” Currie said. “It’s not easy working with a state agency. But I think it’s been valuable work and we’ve accomplished a lot.”
With Currie’s retirement, the friends group is planning to reorganize, acknowledging that filling his role is an impossible task. For decades the go-to strategy for getting work done was for Currie to do it.
Although he certainly had help, he was the driving force behind most work.
Now, the group is looking for five board members. In particular, people with mapping, financial management and writing skills are needed.
“We (also) need more general diversity in the group,” Currie said. “By age. By gender. By ethnic background. By interests and professional background. We’ve been kind of homogeneous.”
While Currie and others have done yeoman’s work at Mount Spokane, plenty of challenges and projects remain.
In particular, Currie points to updating and revising the current trail plan, which was last updated in 2014, with an eye toward new recreational technology such as e-bikes and fat bikes.
Also high on his radar is an expansion of the Selkirk Lodge and the parking area for Nordic skiing.
Both of which are reflections of one of the biggest changes he’s seen over the years, more and more people using and loving Mount Spokane.
“It’s time for somebody else to see what they can do with it,” he said. “I’ve kind of done what I’ve wanted to do.”
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