On the water with a diehard Spokane River evangelist

click to enlarge DAN NAILEN PHOTO
Dan Nailen photo

Toward the end of our two-hour innertube float down the Spokane River, Dave Jackson had an assignment.

"Put both your hands and both your feet in the river," Dave says. "Tilt your head back and close your eyes. Then count to 45 before you open them. Trust the river."

Easier said than done when this is your first time floating. But for Dave this was his 127th trip down the Spokane this summer, traversing between Redband Park in Peaceful Valley and where he pops out below his house in West Central. The Lewis & Clark High School teacher likes to cram in as many floats as possible between school years.

You might know Dave's name from LC, or his years as a local attorney, or maybe as one of the folks who helped launch Hoopfest way back when. I, however, will know him from now on as a diehard Spokane River evangelist. A guy who revels in taking newbies down through water features he's named things like Tornado Alley, Blue Typhoon, Big Edward and Washing Machine.

While Dave can regale you with river tips ("hug the willows, don't kiss them") and geology lessons (hello, Coyote Penis), as well as history facts about things you float by like the former Natatorium Park, he wasn't always a river guy. After moving to Spokane after decades in Coeur d'Alene, he spent years just looking at the Spokane River before his neighbor (and Spokane Riverkeeper) Jerry White talked him into jumping in back in 2014.

His then-4-year-old son Henry joined on that maiden float, and Dave's 89-year-old father went down the river with him just a couple weeks back. Beyond family, though, Dave has taken about 50 folks down the river with him just this summer. That's what I mean by "Spokane River evangelist."

"This is my church," Dave proclaimed at one point on our Sunday trip, raising his hands toward the sky. Later, he explained his passion for the river: "This is Spokane. This is why this city even exists."

Back to my assignment.

I put my hands and feet in the river, as Dave requested. I close my eyes, tilt my head back and start counting. I feel the breeze and the sun on my face, and hear the gurgle of a tiny rapid. The water, ice cold at the beginning, feels warm now. A duck quacks, and I open my eyes to see it swim away.

I probably counted a little faster than I normally would on solid ground, because I didn't really trust the river.

But I trusted Dave. ♦

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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...