In our opinion
In 2009 the Ice Age Floods Geologic Trail became reality through the federal Omnibus Public Land Management Act.
The Act gave responsibility for overseeing creation of the trail, which stretches from northwestern Montana through North Idaho, Eastern Washington and the Columbia Basin down the Columbia Gorge to the Pacific Ocean, to the National Park Service. But unlike most other acts of its kind, it provided none of the estimated $8 million to $12 million needed for the task.
Instead, local Ice Age Floods Institute chapters have taken it upon themselves to find ways to purchase small pieces of land significant to telling the story of the great floods that washed over and carved out our landscape tens of thousands of years ago. The most recent of these is the purchase of 15 acres of land along the northern ridge of what is called the Williams Lake Plunge Pool by the Spokane Conservation Futures program.
That land will be turned over to Cheney, at basically no cost to the city, for it to manage and maintain. Along with this, the city – through a National Parks technical service grant – is researching further development of Ice Age Floods trail opportunities by identifying partner groups and opportunities for education and tourism that might result.
We applaud these efforts and support them for several reasons. The main one is that it will create identity for Cheney as a destination place other than being the home of Eastern Washington University – not that there’s anything wrong with that and we’re very proud to be.
But when students leave in the summer, so too does a good chunk of the economic revenue. Developing Cheney as part of a larger national geological trail could bring in tourism dollars from areas near and far that would help bridge the gap.
Any jobs created might not necessarily be the best family wage jobs, but being a stop along the Ice Age Floods Trail could help bring more exposure to other area resources such as fishing, hiking and biking, as well as fill educational needs through bus tours. It could also serve as another reason for larger industrial, commercial firms seeking to move to areas where there are recreational opportunities for their employees to consider Cheney and the West Plains.
Some issues with creating a tourism destination will arise, such as the potential for increased traffic on roads that aren’t the best, and increased numbers of people in areas bordered by homeowners who moved to the country seeking peace and quiet. Those can be addressed if everyone respects each other’s position and is willing to engage in a little give and take.
There are still questions needing to be answered too. Who takes the lead on development, how will funding be acquired for additional developments, will there be public-private partnerships developed and how will they operate, for starters.
But developing the local Ice Age Floods features as tourism opportunities is an idea with merit, and should be given a chance to continue to grow and flourish.