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A Little History of a Road

Recently a very old hand-painted sign, Shady Slope, which was nailed to a conifer has disappeared. Locals are wondering what happened to it, and saddened by its removal. Perhaps with wider sharing we can relocate the sign. This article originally written several years ago is a reminder of the particulars.

Six decades ago longtime Little Spokane River Valley resident Wilna B. Jones (nee McLaren) moved from Hillyard to the Little Spokane River Valley to start her married life at her new address at the foot of Shady Slope Road.  “In those days,” she remembers, “the road wasn’t called Shady Slope, in fact it wasn’t even a road – just a cow path”  – (and most likely the main trail to and from a documented Spokane Indian encampment called “where a creek skirts the foot of a cliff” or tcilciymul’lax, an encampment noted for its hunting and fishing grounds). Wilna remembers when Shady Slope was just two ruts in the meadow without a formal name until the county began road improvements in 1937 and called it Perry Road, renaming it Shady Slope sometime in the 1950’s. She remembers that “there were few non-Indian families along Shady Slope in 1937, just the Atkinsons, the Edwards, and the Jones.  The Williams and Spilker families came afterwards and “that was the way it was for years and years.”

That bumpy ride in her old Chevrolet truck hardly presaged what would someday become a very busy, winding, and winter-hazardous connector between Highway 2 (formerly the Pend O’reille Highway) and Little Spokane Drive. When I asked if her truck ever slid down icy Shady Slope in the winter she replied, “My husband’s did, but not mine. He rode it out.”

County road engineers forecast 2,500 vehicles using the road daily once the North/South Freeway interchange is completed. No improvements are planned for this portal road to the valley.

Wilna Jones has seen many changes to her quiet valley and she and her daughter Linda remarked on these changes with me in a recent visit to their wonderful home, built in 1922, not far from a cottonwood grove astride the mouth of Little Deep Creek which one of the tributary creeks in the Little Spokane River watershed, its headwaters sourcing from Mt. Spokane (formerly Mt. Baldy). She told of long-ago next door neighbor Silas Cook, famous for building Vista House atop Mt. Spokane, being a mover and shaker who had grandiose plans for creating an L-shaped ice skating rink on his property. He supplied water to it from a channel drawn from nearby Deadman Creek. Cook overestimated the depth needed for his project and it never froze sufficiently for safe skating. She remembers that “it did make a great breeding ground for mosquitoes!”

I asked the 92 year old woman if there were disasters in the valley, “None, except the Depression.” Asked for happy memories, she replied, “None that I can remember. It was never hard and never easy. The kids went to school, the kids came home. You just did your stuff and then it was another year. We’d had some mighty tough winters but this is the weirdest one I remember. I have never seen one that got this cold this early and hung on this late.”

Losing their water rights to the state, and having their well go dry when the local water district drilled a deeper one across the road must have seemed disastrous, especially when the Jones were told they could no longer irrigate their grass field in the summer to feed their livestock, simultaneously being told by the fire department that they keep must their fields green to reduce fire danger. Wilna recalled that before 1976 “we used to be green here all the time.”

The Jones raised four children: Donna, Larry, Linda and Terry, all of whom attended the brick school building in Mead, which at the time enrolled children from first grade through high school and is now known as Mead Middle School. Daughter Linda spent her youth riding her horse throughout the valley and uplands in the forest surrounding Half Moon Prairie. Good friends of the family, the Rowleys, lived for many years on the land where the new aquatic center has been built on Hatch Road. She remembers the vast fields of alfalfa and the little airport owned by her father’s brother, Casey Jones. “I was just sick when I went up to Hatch Road and saw all the houses built on top of each other in what were my favorite riding places.”

Developers approach the mother and daughter frequently with offers to buy their acreage. “Over my dead body,” is their standard reply.

About midway up Shady Slope, with its name emblazoned on two huge vertical signs attached to an ancient pine tree by some resident years ago, is a way stop called “Rider’s Rest” on the west side of the road. Its spring flows across the road during wet seasons…but no one seems to remember who originally welcomed passersby to stop and refresh themselves there. (Perhaps someone reading this article can connect us with the history of that place).

Shady Slope Road continues its service as a gateway to the valley – at one time it may have been a deer trail, and then an Indian’s path, then transformed into a rutted truck route, and finally becoming a paved road from here to there, all the while shaped and defined by creeks streaming alongside it like living memories of all that has transpired

There are few residents left in the Little Spokane River Valley who have the historical perspective that Wilna has. I appreciate being welcomed into the family home, initially surprised at finding myself stepping back in time. The oil stove in the living room, the woodstove in the kitchen…the screened in porch…the view out the windows of water-loving trees…the pictures on the walls… the remembrances shared with me, all were quietly declaring, “This is the way it was in this good place.

by Tina Wynecoop FLSRV Trails committee member

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