Officials come together for Scablands project
National Park Service will provide year-long assistance in inventory, planning and promotion effort led by Cheney
By BECKY THOMAS
Sometimes, separate but similar people sit around in separate but similar rooms talking about how they can separately reach the exact same goals.
When it comes to promoting the outdoor recreation opportunities surrounding Cheney, city leaders suspected this was happening. A couple of years ago, Community Development director Brian Jennings came up with an idea to bring all the organizations involved in outdoor recreation in the area to the same table to advance a common mission of publicizing and improving the Channeled Scabland region surrounding Cheney. He got together with Parks and Recreation director Paul Simmons to discuss the possibilities.
“There are something like 20 lakes within a 30 minute drive (of Cheney),” Jennings said. Public and private lands, trails, parks and more offer hunting, fishing, water sports, hiking and cycling opportunities. And there are many different organizations that manage the lands and the activities. They have similar goals to reach the public and preserve and enhance the resources.
“But no one had brought them together,” he said.
The city was recently awarded a National Park Service grant that aims to do just that. The Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program provides a year of technical assistance to grantees as they pursue their stated goal.
“It’s not funding, persay,” Simmons said, adding that the city would typically spend $20,000 to $30,000 to hire a consultant for a similar project.
After completing an application in July, Cheney’s application was one of 13 projects selected from Idaho, Oregon and Washington. NPS staff member Alexandra Stone will be working with Cheney and dozens of local and regional agencies that have already signed on to the project.
Stone said she would be assisting project leaders Jennings and Simmons, helping to guide the process over the next year.
“We feel very much like we’re joining a team,” she said. “We’re here to add and supplement the resources they’ve already collected.”
Major partners in the project are the Spokane Regional Health District, Cheney-Spokane Chapter of the Ice Age Floods Institute, Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, the city of Cheney, US Dept. of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, Cheney Youth Commission, Let’s Move Cheney, Spokane County Parks, Recreation, & Golf Conservation Futures Program and the Inland Northwest Trails Coalition. Other partners include local businesses, organizations and Eastern Washington University.
Jennings and Simmons said the process, which would likely begin early 2013, would include three major parts. First, the group would develop an inventory of outdoor recreation opportunities. Second, it would create a list of projects to pursue that would benefit all the groups, residents and visitors to the region. Examples might include completing trails that connect use areas and building public restrooms and information stations. Jennings said a long-term goal might be to open an interpretive center in Cheney that introduces the Scablands region and recreation opportunities to visitors.
“We really see Cheney as becoming a gateway to outdoor recreation,” he said. “Kind of the jumping-off point.”
The third part of the process is developing an overarching “brand” for the area. Jennings and Simmons have come up with a tentative name: the Scabland Recreation Zone.
They wanted to include the geological name because it’s a distinct name and a type of topography unique to this area.
Gary Ford, president of the Cheney-Spokane Ice Age Floods Institute, said that the geology of the area and the history of the massive floods that shaped it were central in educating people and bringing them here to see it.
For his group, the project is exciting because it will gather information together on the region, something that they would have had to do independently as they prepare for a NPS management plan that will decide the path of the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail. Ford said the local chapter hoped to highlight the scablands as part of the trail.
“None of us can accomplish as much as we’d like by ourselves…The important thing I think is to highlight that area, talk about the resources there, what the area has to offer,” he said. “Whatever comes out of this grant and this planning process is going to be a substantial amount of information that will be very valuable.”
Lisa Langelier, complex manager in charge of Turnbull, shared similar thoughts, saying that the project would be beneficial in bringing leaders together who don’t normally collaborate.
“There’s always a lot of value in people working together on a common vision,” she said.
Langelier added that she hoped the process would advance a plan to build a trail connecting Turnbull with the Columbia Plateau Trail.
Leaders are still working on how the project will advance, but Simmons and Jennings said it’s open to community input.
“We want anyone who has a stake in outdoor recreation to take part in this,” Simmons said. “We’ll welcome whoever comes to the table.”
Becky Thomas can be reached at email@example.com.