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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Serene moment on the Spokane River ‘a great what not to do photo’

An unidentified paddler, who had slipped under the safety cables above the Upper Falls dam moments earlier, glides past the Spokane Convention Center and toward the Riverfront Park clocktower Sunday, July 18, 2021 just after sunset. Because of nearby dams, spillways and water intakes, boating is not allowed in this area, which is controlled by Avista for their hydropower projects and public safety.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
An unidentified paddler, who had slipped under the safety cables above the Upper Falls dam moments earlier, glides past the Spokane Convention Center and toward the Riverfront Park clocktower Sunday, July 18, 2021 just after sunset. Because of nearby dams, spillways and water intakes, boating is not allowed in this area, which is controlled by Avista for their hydropower projects and public safety. (JESSE TINSLEY)

It’s a serene moment, captured perfectly by Spokesman-Review photographer Jesse Tinsley.

A single paddler floating on the Spokane River, the clock tower and the convention center backlit by a setting sun.

Unfortunately, the scene is illegal and unsafe.

“It’s a great what not to do photo,” said Kacie Dietz, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist with Spokane Parks and Recreation.

First of all, the paddler is in a closed section of the river near the dam.

Per Spokane’s municipal code “No person may intentionally enter, swim, dive or float, with or without a boat, raft, craft or other flotation device, in or upon any pond in a park or the Spokane River at any point between the west line of the Division Street Bridge and the west line of the Monroe Street Bridge.”

There’s another problem with the scene. The man isn’t wearing a personal flotation device and doesn’t appear to have a signaling device, like a whistle, which is also required under state law.

Outdoor recreation has exploded in popularity over the past year and a half. Record heat this summer has continued the trend, said Andy Dunau, the Spokane River Forum executive director.

“Parking lots are overflowing at access points,” he said in an email. “The inexperienced don’t understand the river is cold, especially because of the cold water coming in from the aquifer. So jumping in can be a shock to the system. And with flows being low, it’s bony … meaning rocks you can hit your head on or get your feet caught up in.”

During the heat wave there have been numerous drownings throughout the northwest including a man in the Coeur d’Alene River. Not all the deaths can be attributed to poor paddling preparation, but there is one common denominator.

“The solution is wear a life jacket,” Dunau said. “People wearing one live. Even if you mistakenly think you’re a good enough swimmer and don’t need one, its critical to set a good example for someone else. No different than wearing a seat belt.”

Dietz recommends new paddlers check out Spokane Parks and Recreation’s guided programs, which provide all the necessary equipment and instruction (see sidebar).

“You really just show up and have fun,” she said. “You don’t have to think about the shuttling and all that.”

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