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News / Northwest

Washington State Parks seeks community input to shape future of Mount Spokane

Master plan will guide next 20 years of work at 12,000-acre recreation spot

By Nick Gibson, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane)
Published: May 26, 2024, 5:10pm

The largest state park in Washington happens to be in Spokane’s backyard, and in the next few decades, it could see significant changes.

To determine what those changes could be, Washington State Parks is seeking community input on the master plan that will guide the next 20 years of trail building, land-use decisions, conservation efforts and facility improvements at Mount Spokane State Park.

The agency will host its first public forum from 9 to 11:30 a.m. June 1 at The Wonder Building, to share more about the planning process and gather feedback from the many community members and organizations with a vested interest in the more than 12,000-acre recreation spot.

“Basically, we’re creating an event that’s sort of a two-way street for the community,” said Paul Knowles, Eastside trails coordinator for state parks, “to kind of provide folks with an idea of what’s happening out there, what are people working on, who’s working on what — sort of Mount Spokane’s community ecosystem.”

The impetus for putting together a master plan is multifaceted, Knowles said. For one, the park has seen a staggering rise in popularity over the past decade, jumping from 234,420 annual visitors in 2014 to a peak of 503,062 in 2022. The park saw over 467,000 visitors last year.

Knowles said the COVID-19 pandemic, when outdoor recreation saw a boom nationwide, was a major contributor to the park’s increase in annual visitors. Almost all use areas have seen growth, with mountain biking and winter sports leading the way, Knowles said. The Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park is one of only three downhill ski and snowboard areas nationwide located within a state park.

“As far as we can tell, every aspect up there on the mountain is growing,” Knowles said.

There have been many efforts over the past few decades to develop plans to guide the park’s future, including a 2009 facilities plan and 2014 trails plan, Knowles said.

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In putting together a master plan, State Parks will compile all of its prior efforts into a cohesive vision for the park, while also evaluating which uncompleted projects should be resurrected or discarded.

More recently, the agency bought the 110-acre property where the Bear Creek Lodge is located for $3.1 million. It will need to strategize how the facility could best be used to enhance visitors’ experiences and meet the needs of the park’s staff and volunteers.

The former restaurant, lodge and snow tubing facility, built in 1952, was privately owned until last year. Knowles said establishing a future use plan for the site will be one of the big questions State Parks hopes to answer with the master plan.

“It’s always kind of felt like the gateway to the park, but it’s been under private ownership,” Knowles said. “So now that it’s under State Parks’ ownership, how do we make changes or improve that property in a way that really kind of treats it like a gateway to the park?”

Knowles said many of the goals established in the trail plan a decade ago have been realized, so taking an objective look at what may be next for the 100-mile trail system is another area of focus.

“Is it maintain and enhance the existing trail system? Or should we be focused on making connections within it that aren’t there right now?” Knowles said. “We need to answer those questions for sure.”

Several local partners, like the organizations that recreate at the site or help maintain the park, will be in attendance at the June meeting. State Parks is reaching out to those interested parties individually — including mountain biking associations, trail builders and winter sports groups — to help inform their planning over the next year, Knowles said.

The Spokane Nordic Ski Association will be one of those community partners providing input as the plan is developed. Robin Redman, a longtime park visitor and coordinator for the organization’s adaptive ski program, said the beauty, the multiple recreation opportunities, and the community that keeps the trails and facilities well maintained are what keeps her and so many others coming back to the area each year.

“All we do is travel 40 minutes, and we get all the flora and fauna similar to the Rockies,” Redman said. “It’s a wonderful sense of community up there as well.”

Redman said she’s working with Knowles to ensure that more accessible features are on the horizon for Mount Spokane, so visitors of all abilities can enjoy the park. She’d also like to see improved transit from the city to the park to cut down on the traffic that can build up during the winter, and to put less stress on the parking lots that are starting to get crowded.

Establishing a vision for the future of a recreation area as big and multifaceted as Mount Spokane, alongside a litany of interested community members and organizations, is a challenge in itself, Knowles said. State Parks will need to balance the desires of the public with the feasibility of projects, while also walking the line between overdevelopment and conservation, he said.

“You kind of have that duality of, well, you’ve acquired property to preserve the natural resource elements of it, but there’s also people who want to use it,” Knowles said. “So how do we facilitate that desire while at the same time protecting what people love about it, which is that natural resource element: the forest, the views, the creeks, too? I think that’s gonna be a big task for this project.”