by ERIC RUTHFORD & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & acKenzie Strehlou ladles cups of hot chocolate for her classmates in front of the Peaceful Valley Community Center. They have come here from West Valley City School to clean up the parks and riverbanks.
Most of the kids on the cleanup crew have been to the riverside parks in Peaceful Valley once or twice before, but only on other community service projects --- not actually to enjoy them.
Strehlou, 13, says she likes Peaceful Valley, but she wouldn't want to come with friends or family to play -- not yet. "No, it's kind of dirty, but I wish it was clean. There are too many cigarette butts and needles," she says. Strehlou lives in Argonne Hill, north of Spokane Valley. Her suburban neighborhood is "cleaner but more boring."
Activists in Peaceful Valley are trying to chart a new future for the neighborhood -- one that will make the parks safer and easier to visit while preserving the historic, quirky character of the neighborhood. They want to avoid overdeveloping the area, i.e., making it "cleaner but more boring." Property values are shooting up -- some houses have doubled in value over the past two years.
Residents are organizing a series of meetings at the Peaceful Valley Community Center this weekend to hash out a plan for the future. These meetings will be called a "charrette," a French word referring to a style of meeting that emphasizes participation. The idea is that attendees break off into collaborative groups to write a new plan for the neighborhood's three parks -- Glover Field, Peaceful Valley Park under the Maple Street Bridge and the Peaceful Valley River Walk, an undeveloped riverbank.
Likely participants include city planners, landscape architects who have volunteered their time, members of environmental advocacy groups and residents of the neighborhood. A spokeswoman for Mayor Mary Verner, Marlene Feist, said Verner is planning to attend one of the sessions.
Matthew Phillipy, a 30-year-old teacher at the West Valley City School and a Peaceful Valley resident, calls the charrette process the most democratic way of coming up with a new neighborhood plan.
Phillipy's hopes for the parks include more trails, more signs, and bathroom facilities that are open all the time. Also, he sees the west end of the River Walk as a good put-in spot for kayakers who want to paddle in the whitewater kayak park being planned near the Sandifur Bridge on the Spokane River. Anything that will help bring more visitors to the parks will make it safer, he says, as transients have been setting up campfires, doing drugs and vandalizing the area.
Another neighborhood resident and organizer of the charrette, Lori Aluna, 49, says that the relative isolation of the parks makes it easy for those who want to trash the area. "It's kind of a natural urban area where they can wreak havoc without much notice," she says.
A walking trail connecting the Peaceful Valley parks to downtown along the riverside would bring more people to see views of Spokane Falls and cut down on the illegal behavior, she says. Also, she'd like to see Glover Field used more often for youth sports events. "What would be better than going to a baseball game with the river right there?" she says.
For now, the drug use and other trashy behavior is a barrier to visitors, says Sean Malone, a 13-year-old from the nearby West Central neighborhood, as he helps clean up Glover Field. "There's a lot of people doing drugs here and under the High Bridge." Parents in West Central, he says, "don't want us to come here and play."
Taylor Bressler, division manager in charge of planning and development for the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department, says he envisions the parks in Peaceful Valley becoming a "hopping place" in 5 or 10 years, although he's concerned about giving too much access to the riverbanks both from an ecological and a safety standpoint. He wants a plan that will "protect us from the river and protect the river from us."
He's planning to attend the charrette. "I like Peaceful Valley doing this because they're claiming it as their own," he says.
The Peaceful Valley Charrette is open to the public. There will be three sessions at the Peaceful Valley Community Center at 214 N. Cedar: Friday, 6-9 pm; Saturday, 8 am-9 pm; and Sunday, 8 am-2 pm. For more information, visit www.reclaimpeacefulvalley.com.