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

After a decade of limited access, Fish and Wildlife making progress on Chapman Lake boat launch

UPDATED: Sun., May 9, 2021

J.P. Dutton and Kayla Rambo take a hike to access Chapman Lake. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to build a boat launch that would make the lake more accessible for anglers.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
J.P. Dutton and Kayla Rambo take a hike to access Chapman Lake. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to build a boat launch that would make the lake more accessible for anglers. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Chapman Lake’s southern tip is surrounded by 530 acres of public land. But getting on the water to do some fishing isn’t easy.

By driving along Cheney Plaza Road, which loops around the lake south of the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, people will find beautiful pines and wildflowers. They won’t find an access road for the lake, except the one barred by a serious-looking gate and marked with no trespassing signs.

Few anglers have been going to the long, narrow lake for the past decade, ever since that gate on the only access road was locked, but years-old plans to build a boat launch and restore easy public access are picking up steam.

Steve Pozzanghera, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s eastern region director, provided the Spokane County commission with an update on the project April 20.

Pozzanghera explained that his agency is working with the Department of Natural Resources to acquire property for a boat launch.

Randall Osborne, the WDFW’s district fisheries biologist, said anglers are eagerly waiting the day they can get their boats to the lake again.

“I get numerous calls a month from people wondering, ‘Hey, how’s Chapman Lake coming along?’” Osborne said. “There’s a lot of people wanting to get back on the water.”

Chapman Lake was glass-smooth on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, outside Cheney, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Chapman Lake was glass-smooth on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, outside Cheney, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

An access saga

For decades, anyone who wanted to get a boat on the lake for some fishing simply used the Chapman Lake Resort’s boat launch.

There might have been thousands of families that fished Chapman Lake, Osborne said.

But in 2011, the resort closed and owners locked the gate, cutting off access. Now Osborne estimates a few dozen families might be fishing the 128-acre lake.

Spokane Fly Fishers President Paul Olsen said the lake has been so inaccessible for so long that it’s little more than a fond memory for many anglers.

For several years in the 2010s, Fish and Wildlife intended to buy the resort property from the owners.

When resort owner Gene Kaplan died in 2016, negotiations broke down. The wildlife agency couldn’t come to a deal with Kaplan’s family.

Fish and Wildlife turned its attention to the Department of Natural Resources land along the southern part of the lake.

The boat launch project appears feasible. The Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office is providing Fish and Wildlife with grant money.

Karen Edwards, Fish and Wildlife’s real estate manager, said her agency will have to buy roughly 22.5 acres to build the boat launch, and acquiring the land will probably cost about $500,000. Engineering and designing the facility will likely cost about $370,000.

Building the boat launch could cost roughly $1.2 million.

The lake wouldn’t be for jet skiing or powerboating, Pozzanghera told the county commissioners. The lake has no-wake restrictions, and Fish and Wildlife wants to keep the place tranquil.

“We would really like this to remain what it has been for decades,” Pozzanghera said.

The current boat launch concept includes the launch, fencing, kiosks, parking and restrooms. Fish and Wildlife would also have to improve and extend an old dirt road that begins right before Rock Creek off of Cheney Plaza Road.

People can hike that road to get close to the lake, but it peters out before reaching the water – forcing them to cut through the woods to reach the shore. The trek’s a bit under a mile.

“There are some people that will wheel a kayak in there,” Osborne said. “Bless their hearts.”

J.P. Dutton baits a hook as Kayla Rambo looks on after they hiked in on DNR land to access Chapman Lake for an afternoon of fishing on Wednesday near Cheney.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
J.P. Dutton baits a hook as Kayla Rambo looks on after they hiked in on DNR land to access Chapman Lake for an afternoon of fishing on Wednesday near Cheney. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Kokanee hotspot

There are only two kokanee fishing spots in Spokane County, Osborne said – Chapman Lake and Badger Lake 2 miles west.

Kokanee are nonmigratory sockeye salmon. They’re delicious and coveted by anglers.

“They’re great table fare,” Osborne said. “I don’t know if you can cook a kokanee wrong, other than overcooking it.”

Even though the lake has been largely inaccessible for over a decade, Fish and Wildlife has continued stocking the lake with kokanee.

Osborne said he wants to keep the lake stocked for when fisherman can return en masse.

Stocking kokanee is different than stocking trout, Osborne said. If they don’t keep stocking the lake every two or three years, there will be a gap in the kokanee age classes.

Other species of fish will increase in numbers, filling that gap.

“Then it may be difficult if not impossible to get them back in some places,” Osborne said.

It’s also cheap to keep stocking, Osborne said, costing Fish and Wildlife between 2 and 3 cents per fish.

“I’ve been an optimist all along about getting people back on the water,” Osborne said. “I want that kokanee fishery still in place when we finally break over the hump.”

Next steps

If the land acquisition and boat launch engineering go as planned – a lot of the lake edge is basalt cliff, so the engineer will have to find a suitable spot – Fish and Wildlife will have to secure grant funding to build the facility.

It can only apply for recreation and conservation grants in even-numbered years, Edwards said, so it could still be a while before the boat launch is built.

It’s been a roller-coaster experience trying to restore access during the past decade.

“We would make some progress and then we would run into a speed bump,” Osborne said.

He’s optimistic the project could be close to happening but doesn’t want to get his hopes up.

“I’ve told dozens of anglers I’m going down with the ship on this one,” Osborne said. “I hope this might be my legacy, because everyone here at Fish and Wildlife knows the value and the importance of getting people back on that lake.”

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