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

Thousands flock to the Spokane River to celebrate the Fourth, freedom, family and friends

Cierra Paz and her friend Jana D’Lerma sat in a pair of lawn chairs on the bank of the Spokane River at Gateway Regional Park Thursday afternoon, basking in the sunlight.

“Best friends,” Paz corrected this reporter to say, laughing between words. “Not just friends, OK ?”

They sat close enough to keep their feet in the water, which helped them stay cool as they watched Paz’s son Ander Paz, and daughter Lucy Paz, play in the river. The water was calm and shallow, and save for a nearby couple, the group had the little rocky beach tucked under some trees entirely to themselves.

It was just the first stop in the slate of Fourth of July activities they had for the day. Later that evening, D’Lerma and the Pazs would head to Pavillion Park in Liberty Lake to catch a free concert and fireworks display. Paz said she grew up watching the fireworks in Liberty Lake every year, and she looked forward to sharing that family tradition with her own kids.

“It’s just a fun holiday to gather, have family around,” Paz said. “It was always enjoyable to me. I look forward to it every year.”

Thousands of Inland Northwest residents flocked to the Spokane River Thursday to celebrate Independence Day. Around almost every bend, turn and twist the region’s lifeblood takes from the state line to Suncrest, families and friends kept up holiday traditions or started new ones. They brought paddleboards and kayaks, fishing poles and tackle boxes and swimsuits and coolers, all united under the common goal of having a little fun under the sun.

Farther downriver from Paz and D’Lerma’s cozy cove, Spokane residents Nik Jones and Tessa Lee sat under a white pop-up canopy with their dog Daisy.

They got to the bank of the river near the ever-popular The Islands swimming area near Myrtle Point just in time to stake out prime real estate near the bay’s west end, and brought a grill, beverages and enough snacks to stay for awhile.

“The plans are coming out, hanging out and relaxing for the Fourth, then eat some food and just enjoying ourselves,” Jones said.

Among the crowd of around 100 people swimming, splashing and sunning at the spot were the couple’s two preteens. Lee said the holiday always has been a time for their family to spend quality time together, which is why the only thing they had on the schedule Thursday was their river trip. They didn’t expect to catch any fireworks displays, despite Lee’s fond memories of the over-the-river shows in her hometown, Coeur d’Alene.

Nick Kapper sat a few spots over from the family at the beach Thursday afternoon, leaned up against his Yamaha TTR-125 dirt bike. The Massachusetts transplant elected to spend his first Fourth in the area riding his bike, just as he’s spent many days since first falling in love with choppers as a kid.

Kapper now works at Lone Wolf Harley-Davidson in the Valley, and said he needed to pace himself Thursday evening at a friend’s barbecue he planned to attend so he could make it into work the next day.

‘It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Kapper said. “I’ll try not to go too crazy.”

For the time being though, Kapper said he was happy to be spending time with his newfound community in a lovely neck of the woods.

“I mean who wants to go to Silverwood,” Kapper joked as he gestured to a group of young boys climbing the rock formations and taking the over 10-foot plunge into the river below.

West of Boulder Beach, Rick Dasher and his father Ernie Dasher found a quiet corner to cast a few lines. The two are lifelong anglers, Rick said, and try to make it out to the local waterways at least once a week for some catch-and-release fishing.

“It’s always me and my dad,” Rick said. “We don’t expect to catch anything, it’s just to go out and have fun, get out of the house.”

Reeling a big one in may not be their goal, but that doesn’t mean the river isn’t a great place to fish, Rick said. He enjoys the calm waters upriver from the falls, the scenery and the quality time spent with his father doing what they’ve loved to do for years.

The two once worked as guides on the coast near Longview before relocating to Spokane years ago. Rick said he much prefers their new home to the West Side, or even other places they’ve lived in or visited.

“It’s a beautiful area, man,” Rick said. “I like calling it the common city. Here it’s just everyday life, you know. You don’t miss a beat. The city makes you feel like you’re at home no matter what part of town you’re in.”

After they wrapped up their fishing, Rick said they planned to head to his home to spend time with his wife and daughter.

“My daughter don’t like fireworks much, so we tend to just chill back,” Rick said.

The largest gathering on the Spokane River Thursday was miles downstream from the Dashers in Riverfront Park, where thousands trickled through the pathways lined with pop-up rides, food vendors and questionably-fair carnival games.

The ICCU carnival marked not only the holiday, but the conclusion of the official celebration of the 50th anniversary of Expo ’74. Closing ceremonies for the anniversary celebration got underway around 6 p.m., just as Bryan Tejada and Alicia Darnell arrived.

Darnell said they didn’t have plans in place for the Fourth, but the young couple new to Spokane learned a fireworks display occurs over the river and meandered their way downtown to find a spot to watch. The carnival, games and live music and poetry performances were a pleasant surprise, they said.

“It’s actually really cool,” Tejada said.

The two tried their hand at a game of ring toss, but weren’t able to land any. Darnell said they’d have to try a few more games before the fireworks started, even if the odds of winning one of the games were stacked against them.

“My grandma won this before,” Darnell said with a smile. “So every time I see one, I have to try the ring toss. I got to follow in her footsteps.”

Farther downriver, campers, tents and RVs filled the campgrounds at Riverside State Park. The smell of charcoal grills drifted steadily throughout the area.

At a picnic table near the walkway down to the suspension bridge near the Bowl and Pitcher area, George and Lynne Lebrec ate hamburgers hot off the grill with their grandson Koda Moore, 11, who’s visiting from Texas.

The park is “one of our favorite places,” and the couple have been visiting for years, Lynne said. It also holds a special place in the hearts of their family, who had a reunion there last year just a few hundred yards from where they sat. The two were grateful to be able to spend the holiday with their grandson.

“The variety of geology that you can see here is amazing,” George, a longtime geologist, said before launching into a description of the unique basalt flows, evidence of the Missoula flood and other natural features the park is home to.

George wore a gray T-shirt that read “Easily distracted by rocks.”

After spending some time hiking, and having a family picnic, the trio headed downtown to watch the fireworks display and enjoy the carnival at Riverfront Park. Like many area children, Koda said he had been looking forward to it all day.

After all, the Fourth of July is an easy holiday for a child to get behind.

“I enjoy the fireworks, the food and talking,” Koda said. “Laughing and celebrating, too.”