Building Relationships in Northeast Washington

October 3, 2019

Matt Pleasants, a grant development specialist for the Colville Confederated Tribes, grew up in the town of Nespelem on the Colville Indian Reservation, population 236. He went away for college but returned to live and work in his hometown, because he wanted to give back to his community and help it thrive. As we toured Nespelem’s community park, Matt, along with Tribal Councilwoman Janet Nicholson, told us about how kids often spend the whole day in the park in the summer while their parents work. Nespelem’s Mayor, Darcy Epperson, laughed as she talked about wrangling her husband into fixing the broken teeter-totter for the umpteenth time. Looking out at the well-loved jungle gym, broken fencing, and scrubby grass, it wasn’t hard to be convinced by their impassioned support to improve the park for Nespelem’s kids.

That was a common theme of our outreach trip to Northeast Washington in early September: passion. Passion for place, community, and people. When we met with the Colville Tribes, their passion for investing in their community was evident as we talked through their WWRP Local Parks grant applications. It was an honor to meet with Tribal Councilmembers and staff, and we are grateful for the opportunity to visit their community.

Later in the day, we finally got to see the Ferry County Rail Trail in person and enjoyed a personal tour by Bobby Whittaker, one of its founders. If you ever want to get fired up about the potential for trails to support recreation and tourism, give Bobby a call. Along with the engaged board of the Ferry County Rail Trail Partners, Bobby showed us the power of passion, grit, and determination to create an amazing community asset. Four WWRP Trails grants helped fund the 25-mile rail trail, which is open for walking, bicycling, and cross-country skiing. Locals enjoy the trail as well as tourists, driving economic activity to this rural community.

The next day in Colville, we walked into the Tri-County Economic Development District office expecting to meet with three people, but instead found eight people with two more on video conference. These folks were brimming with ideas and questions, eager to develop more recreational opportunities to bring economic development into their community. By this time in the trip we had fallen in love with the pine forests, rural character, and natural beauty of Northeast Washington, so it was easy for us to see their vision and its potential. We look forward to helping communities in Ferry, Stevens, and Pend Oreille Counties achieve their recreation and conservation goals through the WWRP.

We applaud the passion of the folks in this beautiful, remote corner of Washington and encourage them to remember the oft-quoted Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The Coalition is committed to helping communities in Northeast Washington and across the state complete successful WWRP applications and see their dreams become reality.