Ballots submitted by people like Ike Cook, a 72-year-old retired farmer near Wilbur, are a reminder of the smaller world out there, one that can still contain great delights.
Cook's choice for best breakfast (Flo's in Grand Coulee), for instance, is as much about familiar rhythms as about food. It's a farmer's place. "It's good-old home cooking. It's not very big, but she opens early so the guys can come in and have coffee and shoot the breeze."
His list of best Mexican food (La Presa, also in Grand Coulee), fine dining (Don's, Soap Lake), bakery (Sun Rock Bakery, Wilbur) and takeout (Lai-Lai's Garden, Airway Heights) is fuel for a road trip.
Cook knows a thing or two about wheat country sports, too. "I still have the record at Wilbur High School for most letters earned in major sports. I won 13 majors and one minor," he says. And he champions Kari McKay for best local athlete.
McKay played multiple sports at Almira, where she was -- pretty much by herself -- the cross-country team. She shot out of the tiny farming town to become one of the nation's elite distance runners, twice making the Olympic Trials in the marathon (2000, 2004).
But a less-known feat of running wowed Cook.
"When I retired I sold Kari my cows. I had 80 out in a stubble field," he says. When McKay arrived to look the herd over, Cook told her, "Wait and I'll saddle up the horses. She said, 'We don't need horses,' and she took off running. I'd never seen anything like it; she just ran out there. Soon here she comes with 80 cows."
Now that's a best-of moment.
-- KEVIN TAYLOR
For a complete listing of this year's Best Of Award winners, visit http://cpc.inlander.com/best_of
BEST PLACE TO SKATEBOARD - HILLYARD SKATE PARK
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & "H & lt;/span & illyard is an amazing skatepark because it was built for skateboarding by skateboarders," says concert promoter and skateboarder Patrick Kendrick. "As opposed to [being] built out of greed by corporate bandwagon jumpers." The latter sentiment is aimed not so subtly at Spokane's downtown skate park, a venue he says lacks good flow from feature to feature. Spirit Skate Shop owner Steve Sanchez considers the downtown park so sub-par that when asked why he thought HILLYARD took home top honors in this contest, he noted, "Well, it's really the only park in town. I wouldn't consider under the freeway a legitimate skateboard park. The city never finished that park."
Hillyard, on the other hand, is "the best that Spokane has right now." The 12,000-square-foot park, opened in 2004, consists of two deep bowls surrounded by an outer track that's filled with ledges, pyramids and mini-bowls. "It has consistency, fluidity," says Sanchez. "It has a lot more to offer all sorts of skateboarders. There's a lot of depths, from a foot tall to 10-feet tall at Hillyard." That, he says, has made the park a magnet for skaters of all generations. "There are 40-year-old men out there skateboarding again."
Sanchez will give this to the downtown park, though: It's got a roof in I-90. "A free roof is the best thing you can offer. People want to skate all the time," he says. "If you had Hillyard under the freeway, you'd have world-class skaters flying in all the time."
2ND PLACE: Downtown Spokane Skate Park
3RD PLACE: Coeur d'Alene Skaters Park
BEST KIDS CAMP - CAMP REED
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he smell of pine, a nice lake to jump into, a ropes course and, of course, archery are all things you can do at CAMP REED, located 30 miles north of Spokane. But so what? The Inland Northwest has all sorts of camps that promise all of the above. What separates the YMCA camp from all the rest?
"It's the people and the relationships," program coordinator Landon Crecelius says. "We have the best and most caring counselors. We have a super high retention rate for our staff."
Crecelius should know -- he's been a part of Camp Reed since he was 10. Now, 16 years later, he's working on his masters in organizational leadership at Gonzaga and working full time for the camp.
A typical day at Camp Reed includes a morning jog or a nice jump into Fan Lake, breakfast, breakout sessions and finally some free time where the kids get to decide what they want to do.
Spokane's oldest kids camp opened in 1915 after a kind couple with the last name Reed donated 13 acres. The camp, now 550 acres, maintains the YMCA's core values of teaching respect, honesty, caring and responsibility.
The camp also honors the YMCA's code of providing a place for kids of all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds with a safe and fun learning environment. More than 300 kids out of the 1,800 who attended last year went to camp on scholarships. Some of those kids came straight out of urban environments with no previous experience with the outdoors.
Crecelius says he owes a lot of who he is to the camp. "Coming out of a divorced family, [Camp Reed] was very influential for me. My life would be only a portion of what it is today without it."
2ND PLACE: Camp Sweyolakan
3RD PLACE: Camp Spalding
BEST OF HALL OF FAMER - OZ FITNESS
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & z Fitness sells hope. Oh, they'll make you sweat for it, but what they're giving you in return for your treadmill hours is the realization of your dreams -- the hope of losing weight, expanding muscles, or improving that personal-best time.
But what if you're intimidated by all those hard bodies pumping iron? "Everybody is not a Ken or a Barbie," says D. Winebarger, regional operations director for Oz Fitness. "That is not the way the world works."
Winebarger, who has been with the company "since the Sta-Fit days, 13 years," knows that her staff has helped transform lives all through various transitions in ownership. In July 2004, eight regional fitness clubs -- five in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene, one in Montana and two in Oregon -- were purchased from 24 Hour Fitness by one Ian Riley (who's from Oztralia, mate). (Because the local clubs were re-branded but not fundamentally changed, The Inlander has ruled that the 24 Hour Fitness wins count toward the 10-year Hall of Fame requirement.) And judging from the number of muscles in his 1988 Mr. Australasia photo, Ian Riley knows his way around the free weights.
He was a trendsetter. "In the last 10 years, resistance training has become much more marketable as people realize that cardio alone won't get the results," Winebarger says. "And diet and supplementation has been huge -- people are more conscious about what they put in their mouths. Even if they get a salad, they'll load it up with 500 calories of dressing on top. But then they see that they have to put in five and a half hours of work on the equipment to burn that off."
You don't have to sweat alone. If you promise to play well with others, fitness classes might be what you need. Winebarger says that classes in spinning/cycling, strength training and yoga are the most popular right now. Fitness, though, is subject to trends like everything else. Remember Turbo Kick Boxing and Billy Blanks? A more recent fashion was "Pilates fusion" with yoga, combining isometric strength training with relaxation -- Winebarger will send staff "down to California to scope out trends like that, get certified, and then come back up here and get others on our staff certified," she says. "We try to stay ahead of trends that way."
Winebarger adds that she wants "to thank the loyal and determined members who have stayed with us and met their goals." Every step on the StairMaster, after all, brings them a little bit closer to what they've been hoping for.
-- MICHAEL BOWEN
BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT FOR OUR URBAN LIVING ROOM - A MAKEOVER FOR RIVERFRONT PARK
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he year 1974 is etched in our collective memory, but perhaps we should celebrate 1978 just as much -- May 5, to be exact. That's the day President Jimmy Carter came to town to officially open Riverfront Park, the urban oasis left behind after Expo '74 closed.
Staring down 30, Riverfront Park remains one of the great urban parks in America, with the Spokane River Falls running through it. But the attractions are showing their age. (The Looff Carousel being the exception -- it's perfect.)
There has always been a strong impulse to protect the solitude of Riverfront Park, but that carries a cost. We underutilize the park: With 100 acres, I say there's plenty of room to have both the solitude an urban park should offer as well as the activity that makes it the city's rumpus room.
So how about we put out a request for proposals, asking some of the nation's best thinkers to figure out what to do? Don't want to turn it into a mini-Disneyland? Then set the parameters of the RFP accordingly. And nothing says you have to act on the proposals from concessionaires -- all ideas are good ideas.
Or here's something: Get Washington-based REI to dream up the world's first outdoor adventure park, with stations all over, from rock climbing walls to mountain biking courses to kayaking. Tell me that wouldn't nail down our advertised "Near Nature, Near Perfect" persona.
"Riverfront Park also shows very clearly what can be accomplished in urban redevelopment," President Carter told the crowd that day in May. "You've transformed an area that was declining, that was far short of its great potential, into one of the nation's most innovative and refreshing urban settings."
Riverfront Park is declining again and far short of its potential, so how about we look into a makeover for its 30th birthday?
-- TED S. McGREGOR JR.
BEST CAMPGROUND - FARRAGUT STATE PARK
Hard to tell whether our readers like the campgrounds themselves or the surrounding amenities. No matter. FARRAGUT STATE PARK's a no-brainer either way. The 4,000-acre park and former naval training station on Lake Pend Oreille has an abundance of camping options, from cheap standard campsites to cabins and huge group sites for up to 100 campers. And there's plenty to keep you busy during the day. The usual fare: swimming, hiking, biking, horse trails, etc. The unusual stuff: three disc golf courses (three!) and a model airplane flyer's field. This is one-stop camping at its Inland Northwest best.
2ND PLACE: Riverside State Park
3RD PLACE: Indian Creek, Priest Lake
BEST GOLF COURSE - INDIAN CANYON
When we asked Inlander columnist Bob Herold what was so great about INDIAN CANYON, he replied with a 1,500-word essay. Long-windedness isn't unusual for Bob. But neither is passion unusual for the picturesque course's avid golfers. The 18-hole, par-72 course, designed by Pebble Beach architect H. Chandler Egan and opened in 1935, is (as Bob says) "Spokane's only claim to any golf fame," having played host to three USGA competitions and now the annual Rosauers Open. Golf Digest called it one of the top 25 public courses in the country. You called it the best in the Inland Northwest.
2ND PLACE: Downriver Golf Course
3RD PLACE: Coeur d'Alene Resort Golf Course
BEST NEW WORKOUT TREND - YOGA
It ain't exactly new (and, if memory serves, this isn't the first time that our readers have voted this millennia-old activity the best new workout in the region), but we think you all may have been on to something. Because while it's been around a while, YOGA has also blown up in the Inland Northwest in the last year, with more than 10 studios or gyms in Spokane alone now offering classes in everything from ashtanga to kundalini. There are even kids' classes at Spokane Youth Yoga, near Manito Park. Twisting yourself into a pretzel has never been so hip.
2ND PLACE: Pilates
3RD PLACE: Walking
BEST WEEKEND GETAWAY - THE COEUR D'ALENE RESORT
The House That Hagadone Built came in first place, beating out two potentially free weekend getaways in Sandpoint and Priest Lake. But then those places don't necessarily have LCD TVs and a movable floating golf hole. So... The crown jewel of the Lake City, the COEUR D'ALENE RESORT opened in 1986 and has been dominating the city's "skyline" and tourism scene ever since. With a European spa, two restaurants, a pair of cocktail lounges, a marina and that elusive golf hole, it's no surprise. A perfect weekend getaway -- especially when you win the office NCAA pool to pay for it. Go to those other places on your own dime.
2ND PLACE: Sandpoint
3RD PLACE: Priest Lake
BEST HEALTH CLUB - OZ FITNESS
When 24-Hour Fitness started shedding its small-town gyms a couple years back, it was former Australian bodybuilder Ian Riley to the rescue, buying them up and developing the Oz Fitness brand for a chain of facilities throughout the Northwest, including half a dozen clubs in Spokane, the Valley and Coeur d'Alene and a few more from Billings, Mont. to Springfield, Ore. So it's Oz like Australia. Not Oz like The Wizard of... What's so Australian about the place, though (besides the kangaroo lifts), remains a mystery.
2ND PLACE: Spokane Club
3RD PLACE: YMCA
BEST BIKE SHOP - WHEEL SPORT
Once again, WHEEL SPORT surges across the finish line in first place -- icing on the cake for a company celebrating 35 years since opening for business on North Division in 1973. Since then it's added locations on the South Hill and in the Valley and continues to provide high-quality service, a sizeable selection of clothes and gear and, of course, a ton of bikes (mostly Specialized and Diamondback, though each store carries a slightly different inventory). North Division manager Craig Dalzell says their $3 million of inventory -- coupled with carefully chosen team members -- "makes it pretty tough to go up against us."
2ND PLACE: Two Wheel Transit
3RD PLACE: Spoke 'n' Sport
BEST NORTH IDAHO BIKES: Vertical Earth
BEST PLACE TO SKI - SCHWEITZER
There's one really spectacular reason that SCHWEITZER is the best place to ski in the Inland Northwest. It's not just that it's the biggest around. And it's not the new Basin Express Quad, or the speedy Stella six-pack. It's the view from the top. What was once the exclusive province of fur trappers who snow-shoed up to take a peek is now available to anybody who can make it up the lift. The whole of Lake Pend Oreille lays below you, and the greens and blues and whites of three states and two countries stretch out as far as you can see. It's so beautiful you forget you're blazing down a mountainside. (Watch for trees!)
2ND PLACE: Mt. Spokane
3RD PLACE: 49 Degrees North
BEST OUTDOOR REC SUPPLIES - REI
The Spokane area is blessed with a bevy of fine outdoors outfitters, but REI scrabbled to the peak this year. The Seattle-born consumer cooperative has a ton of sales, and members (who can opt into the co-op for $20) generally get back 10 percent of what they spent in-store in the previous year. (Though be warned that the dividend doesn't apply to every purchase.) On top of all this, the store on Monroe Street is huge and has been growing. That's momentum they'll need to fend off their newest competitor: the already-legendary Cabela's store in Post Falls. Good luck next year, you hippies.
2ND PLACE: Mountain Gear
3RD PLACE: Cabela's
BEST PLACE TO SNOWBOARD - MT. SPOKANE
"Without snowboarding, this business would've been hard-pressed to survive." That was Mt. Spokane GM Brad McQuarrie talking to us about the snow industry last year. "Snowboarders are what saved us," he says. To that end, he says, the nonprofit MT. SPOKANE has tried to give its customers what they want, and that's meant beefing up their boarding amenities with a sweet, full-blown terrain park. It's apparently paid off. Our voters love the place. (And it doesn't hurt that it's only 30 miles outside of the city.)
2ND PLACE: Schweitzer
3RD PLACE: 49 Degrees North