After a decade of public outreach and regulatory wrangling, the expansion of Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park could begin to unfold as early as this season — if it can prevail over one more push by a coalition of conservation groups seeking to stop it.
In November of last year, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission approved the designation of 800 acres on the mountain's northwest side as available for development, which would allow the park to construct a new chairlift and clear the way for seven new trails. The decision came over the objections of the Save Mt. Spokane Coalition, an alliance of environmental groups that has argued that the expansion will hurt old growth and wildlife habitat.
"We believe that it would severely fragment what is right now a native pristine forest," says Mike Petersen, executive director of the Lands Council, one of the groups opposing the expansion.
In October, the coalition filed a petition in Thurston County Superior Court arguing that the commission made a bad call on the expansion. The petition argues that the commission ignored its own research finding that the northwest side of the mountain "represents the highest level of natural resource value in the state park system." Developing it, the petition argues, would harm endangered species and would have "irreversible impacts" on the parks.
A hearing on the petition is scheduled for November, and Petersen says a ruling could come shortly afterward or take months. If the judge turns down the petition, Petersen says the next battle could be in appeals court or challenges to permitting.
Brad McQuarrie, the ski area's general manager, says that there's nothing currently stopping the expansion, which the park has long argued will be done in an environmentally sensitive way, and it's moving forward. He says that work will be complete either next year or the year after. If everything goes smoothly with the permitting, he says, some runs could be ready by opening day this year.
"It was a long process," he says. "We're hoping to have some new runs this winter."