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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Washington

Farewell, Orchard Avenue Park: County lease expires as Felts Field seeks to expand, shuttering neighborhood park

Glenn Wilson looked on Thursday as his 19-month-old granddaughter, Maeve, climbed a rope ladder on the aging play equipment of Orchard Avenue Park. Nearby, 3-year-old Catahoula leopard dog Stevie romped in the grass.

“We’ve been coming here as much as we can,” Wilson said.

By next week, county officials plan to remove the last of the implements at the 3.8-acre park tucked into the corner of a lot owned by the Spokane Airport Board. Officially part of the Felts Field footprint, the park has operated at both the literal margins of the airfield and the metaphoric margins of government jurisdictions for six decades. That run ended earlier this month as Spokane County decided to end its lease with the airport board that has been in place for 30 years.

“We just thought we would make it through the park season,” said Doug Chase, director of parks for Spokane County.

The county cites multiple reasons for not extending the lease, which was last updated in 2017 and for which the county paid about $1,900 in rent per year, in addition to the costs of maintaining the park. Among them is the age of both the play equipment and landscaping systems, both more than 25 years old. The land is also not owned by the county, and since the incorporation of Spokane Valley in 2003, the surrounding residential neighborhoods belong to that city.

“It is not policy for Spokane County to provide community parks within city municipal limits,” Chase said.

Chase also cited future plans at the nearby airport as being incompatible with the existing play space.

Todd Woodard, director of marketing and public affairs for Spokane International Airport, said the board is requesting approval from the Federal Aviation Administration “to maintain the existing parcel as open space and allow for public access.” The park’s border with the air field is marked by a cyclone fence and warning signs prohibiting kite- and drone-flying in the vicinity.

The airport board recently completed a master plan for Felts Field expansion that called for the primary runway to be extended 1,000 feet, Woodard told the Spokane Business Journal earlier this month. In response to a request for that plan, Woodard emailed a map that shows what’s known as the runway protection zone for the site extending into the square acreage occupied by the park as part of the airfield’s future plans.

Spokane Valley apparently had some early discussions with airport officials about the future of the park. Minutes of a study session between Spokane Valley lawmakers, park staff and the city’s legal team in June 2021 indicate that City Attorney Cary Driskell had a conversation with a lawyer for the airport board saying that the FAA would not allow a future lease for a park on the property. Neither Driskell nor Spokane Valley Parks Manager John Bottelli returned a phone call requesting comment for this story.

Orchard Avenue Park was built by neighborhood parents in the 1960s before Spokane County took over its care two decades later, according to a June 1992 report in The Spokesman-Review. As part of department budget cuts in the mid-1980s, the county relinquished care of the park to neighbors and softball enthusiasts, saying it could no longer afford to water and maintain the park.

In 1992, the park was slated for removal before an anonymous $15,000 donation kick-started efforts to preserve it. In September of that year, Spokane County commissioners approved a new 25-year lease for the park that prohibited alcohol, night lighting and other activity.

The playground equipment was installed in 1996, funded at least in part by private donations. Patricia and Ludlow Kramer gave $8,000 to help pay for the playground, according to a story in The Spokesman-Review.

The equipment is past its effective life span and can’t be repurposed, Chase said. He expected all park equipment would be removed by early next week.

The lease was renewed in 2017 for a five-year term that ended this August. County commissioners extended the lease through this month to allow park users to continue to visit before winter.

Wilson, after picking up and twirling his granddaughter with Stevie nipping at his heels, said it was a shame the neighborhood would lose a free option for child entertainment.

“I’m gonna miss it,” he said.

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