Late last month, the Friends of the Falls released a conceptual design report for the cornerstone of the Great Gorge Park they've been talking about building along the Spokane River for the last few years. The report proposes the construction of a world-class whitewater park for kayakers and rafters just below the Sandifur pedestrian bridge, near People's Park.
Prepared by Oregon's David Evans and Associates and Recreation Engineering and Planning, a Boulder, Colo.-based consulting firm that's designed more than 70 similar water parks around the world, the report suggests that Spokane can build a course with a "double-U" structure that would create year-round rapids for water sport enthusiasts at a cost of about $650,000. It proposes that several concrete bridge piers left in the river be taken out and that undulating, horizontal U-shaped arches made of granite and basalt boulders be installed below the Sandifur bridge. This would force river water into the middle of the channel and create a number of "features" for kayakers.
Just removing the old bridge piers, says Friends of the Falls Executive Director Steve Faust, is going to make the river a safer place. He cites the case of Benjamin Morin, an 8-year-old boy who died last month of complications from injuries he suffered last June when his canoe hit one of the piers, pinning him underwater for 20 minutes. "That was a really sad event," says Faust, adding, "We think this project is going to improve the safety of everyone who uses the river." He notes, however, that there will be no way around the new rapids for less experienced river travelers, though there will be a "very long tail water" just downstream, where people can easily hoist themselves out of the water.
Faust also believes that, contrary to the suspicions of some, the whitewater park won't harm fish habitat and may actually improve it. According the new report, "'U' drop structures create deep, self-scouring plunge pools that provide feeding lanes, cooler temperatures in the hot summer months, and overhead protection from predators for a variety of fish species."
"We're hopeful," says Faust, "that it will improve the fishery."
But messing with nature isn't easy. Or cheap. Of the $650,000 the report suggests it will take to build the whitewater features and an access trail, Faust says they've only raised about $400,000. That came in the form of an appropriation from the state of Washington.
But before they can spend that, they need to raise about another $225,000. That will be the focus of an invitation-only fund-raiser the group will hold near the proposed site on Thursday, April 13.
To gather the rest of the funds, the organization has begun an Adopt-a-Rock campaign. They're looking for individuals or businesses to contribute $250 each, to cover the cost of acquiring large granite boulders from throughout Spokane County and transporting them to the site, to be used as part of the double-U structure. Faust notes that in return, contributors will receive a small river stone as a memento, to show how they helped "grow a small rock into a big rock" (notwithstanding the geological problems inherent in that statement).
He adds that the group is working with the parks department to find a place around High Bridge Park where they can deposit the boulders they receive -- "kind of like a United Way thermometer," Faust says. He predicts that they should be fully funded within the next two or three months, and that the project could be completed by the fall of 2007.