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Thinking Like a Watershed

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

In January of this new year the exhibit case at the North Spokane County Library was filled with books, memorabilia, and display items featuring Friends of the Little Spokane Valley information focusing on its watershed. A sparkly wide blue ribbon tied each shelf together representing the waterways flowing from the mountain clouds to the ocean. The exhibit generated interest and nice comments. In addition, it was my farewell gift to a group which has done so much good in our region.

In February I retired as a board member of the Friends of the Little Spokane River Valley, our local non-profit ( I have participated in this wonderful organization since the 1990’s. My membership in it has held my heart and attention for a good third of my life. Although I have lived at the same address since 1976, I don’t think I would have had such intimate knowledge of the landscape, the original inhabitants, the LSR and its tributaries, its governmental status and support, and knowing the current residents who people this area if I hadn’t been involved with the Friends of the Little Spokane Valley. Just like the watershed our organization has endeavored to protect and appreciate, it has also defined/enriched my place in the world.

A watershed is a natural drainage basin where streams “follow the lead of a landscape’s geological history and the features which shape and pattern the flow of water of particular place.” The multiple Ice Age Flood events, the aquifer, the nearby Selkirk Mountain range, the people who were here before (and are still here) — each have a story to tell about this home ground.

I give land acknowledgement to the Spokane Indians, whose ancestral territory ranges from Mt. Spokane to Steptoe Butte to Cayuse Mountain. This is a river-defined landscape which provided sustenance for a people who lived by, and depended upon, the streams that flowed to and joined the “Big River” – the Columbia. In recent centuries this vast territory became a small reservation set in the mountains. Still, place names reflect the Indigenous presence: the city of Spokane, Spokane county, the Spokane River, and of course, the Little Spokane River — and even a baseball team wearing the tribe’s name on its uniforms, are reminders that the tribe was not named after these, but before they ever existed. (Our FLSRV newsletters which can be viewed on our website contain histories that resound with the specialness of this watershed and its inhabitants).

The organization I’m leaving is as strong, vibrant, and influential as in its beginnings. Among its many protective and building achievements are protecting the Little Spokane River and building the pedestrian trails –the dual ‘necklaces’ which link this geographical and historical landscape/ watershed into a real community. I am grateful for to the vision and zeal of a small group of thoughtful residents who saw the need.

Decades ahead of other communities, this organization influenced our county planners and commissioners to include a mandate for sidewalks and trails in future building projects within the requirements of its Comprehensive Plan. Although we missed the opportunity to convert the abandoned railroad line that runs along the Little Spokane River into a wonderful non-motorized trail, still, we made up for it with many miles of walkable trails. The colorful, downloadable map of these trails may be viewed on our website.

A recent Seattle Times article reprinted in the Spokesman Review describes the consequences of building without planning, especially for infrastructure, and the necessary safety requirements that include moving safely next to busy roads: seattle-news/transportation/where-wa- schoolchildren-walk-next-to-busy- traffic/. The report makes me appreciate how many pedestrian trails and pathways have been created by FLSRV.

Change is pending within FLSRV’s boundaries. A recent Spokesman Review article projects that developers will build more than 2,700 homes in the Little Spokane River watershed by 2038: https:// mar/07/a-watershed-moment-spokane- county-buying-water-rig/.

In addition, significant changes and revisions to the Growth Management Act which will impact our valley are on the table this year.

As I leave the board a new member is stepping in and bringing fresh energy, ideas, a deep caring for this place, including a historical perspective that continues to enrich this community. I am so glad Ty Brown has joined my amazing teammates on the board of trustees!

I’d like to gift you with some observations about walking that seem so connected to our organization’s mission/vision/purpose:

Writer, Robert Walser, in his short story, “The Walk” says: “With the utmost love and attention the person who walks must study and observe every smallest living thing, be it a child, a dog, a fly, a butterfly, a sparrow, a worm, a flower, a house, a tree, a snail, a mouse, a cloud, a hill, a leaf, or no more than a poor discarded scrap of paper on which, perhaps, a dear good child at school has written his first clumsy letters.”

He describes my own adventures walking to and from school in my early days. The outdoors was my teacher — about weather, and clouds, insects, birds, friendly dogs, native plants – about being observant and aware in my outdoor surroundings.

And this: “Where does it start? Muscles tense. One leg a pillar, holding the body upright between the earth and sky. The other a pendulum, swinging from behind. Heel touches down. The whole weight of the body rolls forward onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off, and the delicately balanced weight of the body shifts again. The legs reverse position. It starts with a step and then another step and then another that add up like taps on a drum to a rhythm, the rhythm of walking.” By Rebecca Solnit, who describes walking, its cultural history, and its spiritual rewards so beautifully in her 2000 masterpiece, Wanderlust: A History of Walking [Spokane County Library has copies]. I’ve always loved one of our organization’s mottos: “Wonderful things are afoot.”

From the clouds in the mountains to the little streams like Deadman and Little Deep Creeks joining the Little Spokane River, all flowing into the Spokane River and beyond to the Columbia River traveling to join the Pacific Ocean – our watershed! Our community! Our home. Thank you, we are still here.

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