Nature Meets a Metropolis at Spokane's Riverfront Park

by Erica Simek Sloniker, GIS and Visual Communications

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The spring air in late March is surprisingly warm, as I step into Riverfront Park in downtown Spokane. The cool mist spraying in my face and coating my hair from the roaring melt water of the Spokane River is another story, however. Being outside in nature, among the downtown city bustle, feels like a big exhale where my senses can begin to sink into the sights, smells, and discovery of the wild yet manicured park around me.

 Photo by Erika Simek Sloniker.

Photo by Erika Simek Sloniker.

The 100 acres that I begin to explore was once an open and rocky landscape, dotted with barren islands in the middle of rapidly flowing waters. It was utilized by Native American tribes of the region. In the 1860’s to early 1920’s, it transitioned into a thriving center of life and industry and a bustling railroad hub bringing timber and other natural resources through the heart of the city.  As of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the area declined into a jumble of neglected parking lots, old buildings, and quiet railways.

 Photo by Erika Simek Sloniker.

Photo by Erika Simek Sloniker.

Meanwhile, across the globe, for hundreds of years, grand expeditions known as world’s fairs were showcasing achievements of nations. These fairs often adopted specific cultural themes, showcased inventions and technological advancements, and forecasted a better future for society. In 1974, the grandness of the world’s fair (Expo ’74) came to little Spokane, Washington. The fair initiated a revitalization of downtown Spokane’s riverfront. Riverfront Park was established and became a green oasis within a modernizing city.

 Riverfront Park is a wild yet accessible natural oasis within a modern city. Photo by Erica Simek Sloniker.

Riverfront Park is a wild yet accessible natural oasis within a modern city. Photo by Erica Simek Sloniker.

Today, perched on a suspension bridge gazing into the rapids of the Spokane River, I am grateful for the enterprising minds and creative souls that brought life back to a worn and tired urban core.  As I look around, I see birds flying overhead, hear the quick footsteps of a jogger passing by, and see a couple enjoying a late afternoon lunch. Like straddling a state borderline, I continue my hike taking it all in feeling as though one foot was immersed in nature and the other foot still captivated by the city around me.