"I feel that there's a component of the fishing community that doesn't want the park to go in," says Paul Delaney of the Northwest Whitewater Association. "And the boating community would want the park to come in."
An effort led by Friends of the Falls, the whitewater park would add several structures to the river near the Sandifur Memorial Bridge in Peaceful Valley. By channeling the water in specific ways, these structures would create waves, pools and eddies -- ideal for kayaking and inner-tubing.
Kayakers tout similar parks' records for becoming a center of recreation for their communities, giving residents who can't afford to travel to other whitewater locations an opportunity to get their feet wet. "The more you can do to get people down to the river, all the better," Delaney says.
Trout Unlimited and local fishermen, however, are concerned that building a whitewater park could muck up the ecology of the region, sending already low numbers of redband trout plummeting even lower. Flyfisher and redband trout advocate Sam Mace says she isn't necessarily opposed to the idea of the park, but wants to make sure exhaustive environmental impact analysis is done before it's started.
Earlier, Mace fired off an e-mail to members of a Spokane River Google Group, where she ticked off a number of concerns. The riverbed would be changed, trees would be logged and erosion might increase, she wrote. Mace says that agencies in other cities had seen their concerns dismissed and ignored. Mace closed her e-mail with an encouragement to attend last week's meeting to discuss the proposal.
And attend they did. About 50 people packed the conference room at the West Central Community Center, many of them standing. Spokane Parks Director Barry Russell surveyed the crowd, saying, "Obviously the numbers show the intense interest in this project."
The meeting stretched late, as a microphone passed from hand to hand. Would the park harm the trout? Or the osprey? Or the homeless? Was there enough parking? Would it affect traffic? Would the structures look natural enough? How many sites were considered? How thoroughly was the impact studied? How, exactly, would it impact the river's flow?
Project Manager Mike Harvey, with Recreation Engineering and Planning, addressed each question, sometimes more than once. Parking will be added as needed, and the city will run traffic analysis before construction is completed. The park will be customized to blend in with the natural environment.
As for the fish -- one of the most discussed issues in the meeting -- Harvey says fish can swim up, down and around the structures. A section specifically for fish to swim in would also be left open.
Many weren't satisfied. Several accused Recreation Engineering and Planning of underestimating the variance of the river's flow levels. Harvey Morrison, president of the Spokane Falls chapter of Trout Unlimited, asked that money be set aside for habitat improvement. "We're looking out for the little fish that can't speak for themselves," Morrison says.
Russell pointed out that to start construction, the city must go through an "incredibly diligent permit process" with a variety of agencies. The whitewater park plans have already been changed several times to make them more environmentally friendly.
"If we build this and find it has a direct impact [on the environment], we have to remove it," Russell says. "Those agencies that permitted us to do it will tell us just as fast to undo it."