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

State Parks suspends controversial SUP ban on Little Spokane River

UPDATED: Sat., June 19, 2021

Beth Stern and Troy McCarthy enjoy a morning of paddle boarding on Newman Lake on June 20, 2018.  (KATHY PLONKA)
Beth Stern and Troy McCarthy enjoy a morning of paddle boarding on Newman Lake on June 20, 2018. (KATHY PLONKA)

Washington State Parks suspended a controversial ban on stand-up paddleboarding on the Little Spokane River on Wednesday.

The agency will further evaluate the “potential effects of all recreational use on the area’s habitat. In addition, the agency will be looking for input from the recreating public,” according to a news release.

On May 25, the agency banned stand-up paddleboarding on the Little Spokane River between the St. George’s put-in and the state Highway 291 nonmotorized takeout.

Per Washington code, swimming and floating the river in inner tubes is not allowed in the Little Spokane River Natural Area.

At the time, park staff argued that SUP users were more likely to fall in the water. Backlash was swift, with many SUPers noting that falling in the water rarely happens. At the same time, State Parks and the city of Spokane announced a new kayak rental program at the St. George’s put-in, a move that irked many.

“Banning paddleboards will not reduce swimming or beach usage,” stated one Letter to the Editor to The Spokesman-Review. “River use will undoubtedly increase with the new kayak rental program at the St. George put-in.”

State Parks will re-evaluate the impact of “all recreational use” on the Little Spokane River and seek more public input, according to the news release.

“We heard from many paddlers about this decision who were understandably confused and upset,” Washington State Parks Director Peter Mayer said in a news release. “We realized we needed to take a step back and be more thoughtful about how best to protect this environmentally sensitive area and engage the public in identifying solutions.”

The Little Spokane River Natural Area is a 1,500-acre preserve along a river that would otherwise be off-limits to the public.

In 1900, the Washington Supreme Court ruled the Little Spokane River to be non-navigable. That gave property owners the right to stop public use of the river where it flows through their land.

Former Spokane County Parks Director Sam Angove, along with the late river residents Morey and Margaret Haggin and others, secured the natural area for public use in 1985. Per the natural areas rules swimming, drinking and other activities are prohibited in an effort to “conserve a unique natural environment.”

The county eventually transferred management authority to Riverside State Park. A Washington Discover Pass is required in vehicles parking at Little Spokane River access sites, including the St. George’s put-in and the Highway 291 takeout.

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