Whitewater park finds rock-solid local support —

Whitewater park finds rock-solid local support

By Bert Caldwell; Nov. 13, 2006 © The Spokesman-Review

November 12, 2006

Sometimes, it's good to throw stones.

Like last week, when the City of Spokane agreed to haul boulders needed for a proposed Spokane River whitewater park to the site near the Sandifur Bridge west of downtown. That contribution may swing park construction, seemingly trapped in an eddy for several months, back into the current.

The Friends of the Falls have tried since the spring to raise $225,000 that would supplement $400,000 in state money. The Friends and other park supporters had hoped the state funds would be enough to create two sets of artificial rapids and holes for kayakers and other water bugs.

Not so. An engineering study completed in March showed the park was still, so to speak, under water.

Friends Executive Director Steve Faust says another year may pass before any boats hit the water. But the city's donation of boulders taken from the wastewater treatment plant will not only significantly reduce costs, he says, the rock will also match that already in the river.

"This is a huge contribution," Faust says, adding that the rest of the rock needed for the project has already been located.

If the Friends can attract another $40,000 to its "adopt-a-rock" campaign, only one other obstacle will remain.

The money set aside thus far must be used to create the in-river whitewater features. But shore improvements would add to the attraction of the river and intersecting trails, as well. Faust lists bank stabilization, parking and restrooms among the unfunded needs.

To finance those improvements, the City of Spokane is seeking a $530,000 grant from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. The application has been ranked fifth among 12 included in the "Water Access" category.

Faust says that is high enough to capture about half the funds needed if the Legislature again appropriates $48 million for WWRP. If another $4 million is budgeted, the shore improvements would be fully funded. The Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation has $100 million worth of projects on a long list submitted by state departments, tribes, counties and municipalities.

A good case could probably be made for every one. And even the weaker cases might get a hearing because the state has a projected $1 billion budget surplus. Money flies when people want to have a good time.

But there is a good business case to be made for developments like a whitewater park, and former Downtown Spokane Partnership President Mike Edwards is happy to step to the bar.

Edwards, now executive director of the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership, has become a strong advocate of urban, outdoor recreation. Last summer he presented his case before an International Downtown Association convention in Portland and a National Association of Parks and Recreation gathering in Seattle.

He estimates the whitewater park will generate $670,000 a year in economic benefits to Spokane by raising property values and increasing tourist visits. Consider the proposed Kendall Yards development, for example, where many residents will have a birds' eye view of the park.

Attractive outdoor amenities also appeal to two populations critical to a healthy downtown, he adds - baby boomers who want a more active retirement, and those under 25 years of age, especially members of the so-called creative class, who want to be able to jump on their bikes or slip into their kayaks with a minimum of time lost to travel.

The convenience, says the Outdoor Industry Foundation, turns backcountry into "frontcountry." Sneer if you will, but Spokane's "Near Nature, Near Perfect" slogan captures that essence pretty well.

And people notice.

The September issue of National Geographic Adventure ranked Pittsburgh its No. 1 "Adventure City." (Again, hold the sneer. The illustration is a picture of a kayaker with Pittsburgh skyscrapers in the background.) Spokane and Portland were among five honorable mentions. Boise, rather grandly characterized as the "last great stronghold of the American West," was tops among the 31 communities of all sizes that were rated.

With all outdoor recreational activities contributing an estimated $730 billion to the U.S. economy, notes Edwards, Spokane could profit handsomely just by taking a slightly wider piece of the pie.

"There's tons of opportunities for Spokane," he says.

Keep those stones coming.

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