Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Spokane County will renovate ever-popular Liberty Lake Regional Park this summer

Spokane County residents are spoiled for choice when it comes to recreational areas.

But for Liberty Lake resident Katrina Stewart, none of them hold a candle to Liberty Lake Regional Park.

“Everyone knows if you want to see me in the summer, you can find me here,” Stewart said.

Spokane County will break ground in the coming weeks on the first phase of a multiyear effort to renovate the more than 3,500-acre park called for in a 2018 master plan. It’s not just Stewart who has an affinity for the spot; the revamp is intended to accommodate its growing popularity and address some of the aging features of the 58-year-old recreation area.

And the work won’t stop at the park’s limits. The winding, pothole-ridden Zephyr Road used to access the park will be completely reconstructed from Lakeside Road all the way to the entrance this fall. Zephyr will be widened from its existing average of 15 to 17 feet to 22 feet, according to county Public Works spokeswoman Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter.

County commissioners have dedicated more than $3.8 million to the first phase of the project, which will feature a variety of improvements centered around the park’s main entrance and beachfront area. The dirt parking lot will be paved and marked, a new 177-foot dock with a designated fishing area and an accessible kayak launch will be installed, the restroom nearest the beach will be replaced and two additional shade structures will be added.

The project will be funded through a mix of state grants and proceeds from the county’s real estate excise tax, which is the sole source of the roughly $700,000 needed to improve the parking lot.

Wheatley-Billeter said road construction will likely start in September, after the peak of the visitation season, and is expected to cost around $332,000. Post Falls-based JR Construction has been awarded the contracts for both the roadwork and park improvements.

“It’s such a popular facility, and we’re just so excited to have these improvements completed,” said Doug Chase, Spokane County Parks, Recreation and Golf director. “So many people are going to use and appreciate them.”

Liberty Lake Regional Park has remained mostly the same since the county first transformed the wetlands, forested peaks and lakesides into an expansive recreation area laid out in a 1972 master plan. The county acquired the 3,500 acres in bits and pieces, using significant state and federal financial assistance to convert a number of resorts and ranch land into a space available for public use.

Sam Angove, the county parks director at the time, partnered with Spokane-based landscape architect L. Keith Hellstrom to develop it into a recreation area chock-full of environmental educational opportunities that received international attention. It became a second home for personnel from the Russian exhibit during Expo ’74 and other fair-goers who camped at the site.

The park still offers a number of tent, RV and cabin camping spaces for a fee, none of which are expected to be affected by the summer construction, Chase said.

Day-use sites will see an impact, though, with intermittent closures of trails and the beach expected until the project wraps up in August.

Chase said the county is working closely with the contractor to get a better sense of how visitation will be affected and will share information on the county’s website and social media accounts.

“We’re still sorting out what that construction timeline will look like, and we’ll know a lot more in the coming weeks,” Chase said.  

Chase said they hope to have construction completed before the hottest months of the season, when the park sees the most visitors, but work will start about six weeks later than anticipated. The parks department is working to see what that may mean for season-pass holders, who may not be able to enjoy their access as frequently as in years past.

A partial refund is not out of the question, Chase said.

“We’re regrouping and doing our hardest to put our arms around what the implications may be,” Chase said. “It’s very possible we may reach out to our season pass holders once we understand what we’re looking at and what the day-use limitations may be.”

Stewart, who’s one of those season pass holders, said she looks forward to the improvements. She thinks the dock in particular will be a great addition, as it will help shelter kids in the water from wakes made by passing boats.

Stewart raised both of her sons in Liberty Lake as a single mother, and the park is one of the many reasons she believes it’s a wonderful area to raise a family.

“I love it. It’s beautiful. It’s zen,” Stewart said. “I live in Liberty Lake so I could have my lake here.”

Courtney Himebaugh said her family has been visiting the park for decades, and she now she shares a love for it with her own two kids. She and her brother Cameron Himebaugh are the oldest of five siblings who all learned how to fish at the lake, and they were able to teach her daughter, Jaxi, and son, Cova, last summer at the very same park.

Cameron Himebaugh now lives in Montana but tries to make a trip out to the park whenever he’s in town visiting family.

“It’s just nice for a couple minutes to get out and enjoy the outdoors,” he said.

Chase said he hopes the progress made on the first phase of the park will build momentum to start work on the other phases laid out in the 2018 master plan, like the replacement of the dilapidated boardwalk and viewing platform over the park’s marshland, relocating and improving camping areas, and the addition of an environmental learning center.

In the meantime, Chase hopes the community is patient and understanding of any partial closures caused by construction this summer.

“We’ll steer them to other parks during those times, and when it is open, we want to welcome them,” Chase said. “Day use is going to be a struggle for part of the season this year, but the payoff is going to overcome any inconvenience.”