Once in a lifetime opportunity is here

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An opportunity of this magnitude, for the city of Coeur d’Alene, has not come along in more than 100 years... the acquisition of land for public waterfront access.

The most used public waterfront park in the city is the Cd’A City Park. Coeur d’Alene was incorporated in 1887. This vacant land was owned by the U.S. government in conjunction with the Fort Sherman holdings. In the early 1900s, Frederick Blackwell, a railroad tycoon at that time, worked out an agreement with the U.S. government to utilize the area as parkland. He funded the improvements to the land and maintained the park site. Sometime around 1910, this parkland was transferred to the city and it has remained the city’s flagship park for over 100 years. There has not been anything as significant as the transfer of this waterfront property for public use in the history of the city.

Based on news articles in the early 1900s, an estimate of the city’s population in 1887 was between 4,000 and 5,000 residents. In 1907, a news article announced the city had grown 57 percent in the previous year. This rate of growth was based on the increased revenues taken in by the post office. It was announced that at this rate, the city population would hit 12,500 residents in 1908. (Although the population of the city did not reach 12,000 until 1950, today we are upward of 50,000 residents.)

Adjacent to the City Park is Independence Point. That site has been around for many decades and was once the home of Playland Pier. When the pier burned down in the early 1970s, the concrete steps leading to the water and small beach area were developed and opened for public waterfront access. This was a nice addition to the Cd’A City Park but it has mixed, or conflicting, uses. Boat traffic is the highest use at this site and not necessarily compatible to swimming and water play.

Many of us are aware that the Sanders Beach area was falsely assumed to be public property. For many decades it was treated as public property and received a lot of use by Cd’A residents. In the 1990s, however, we were informed this property was privately owned. This was confirmed by the Idaho Supreme Court and the public lost all access to Sanders Beach. There is a small piece of public property at the end of 15th Street and in front of the Jewett House on the east end of Sanders Beach, but that is not large enough to accommodate the ever-increasing growth of the community. Parking and facilities are also absent from this area.

Tubbs Hill is a natural park and is a different experience from that of developed parkland; it is predominately for the hiker, walker, jogger, sightseer and photographer. Even though there are a couple of small beaches on its shoreline, it does not get the family use where lawn chairs, blankets, coolers, floating devices and kids are easily transported to those areas. The terrain on Tubbs Hill is not for every user. It is the perfect natural area but it is not comparable to the Cd’A City Park for public waterfront access and use.

Discussion about acquiring Tubbs Hill for public use began in the 1950s with the majority of the natural open space coming into public ownership during the 1960s and 1970s. The public had a lot of input on the acquisition of this natural park area, and a grassroots movement led by Art Manley and Scott Reed eventually brought most of Tubbs Hill into city ownership.

A benevolent donation was made to the Parks Foundation by Neighborhood Inc. (Tom Johnson and Mort Construction) in 2006. That donation included a stretch of waterfront in the Mill River subdivision area, which is now known as Johnson Mill River Park, named in memoriam of Tom Johnson. There is a small swim beach and a day-use dock that were installed on this property. It gets a lot of use but it is also too small to keep up with the growing demands of the population. There may be an opportunity to expand this park now that the railroad has abandoned the right-of-way on the north side of the parkland.

North Idaho College owns property along the Spokane River and they have graciously allowed the public to use this land. NIC is technically in the county, not the city. Will the property always be available for public use? We would like to think so but there are no guarantees that it will remain as it is. (Remember, at one time we thought Sanders Beach would always be available to the public.)

Even the newly built, and increasingly popular, McEuen Park does not have waterfront access. It has a boat launch and boat docks and great views of the lake but there is no access to the water for the park user. It is possible to create waterfront access at McEuen Park but it would be challenging and not as accommodating as that of the Cd’A City Park.

The city’s Comprehensive Plan, the Parks Master Plan, CDA 2030, and the Open Space Master Plan all identify waterfront as a high priority for the residents of Cd’A. Developed parkland with waterfront access and availability has, for the most part, been relatively unchanged throughout Coeur d’Alene’s 130-year history. That may be about to change with this rare opportunity.

Now, for the first time in the history of the city, an opportunity has presented itself to acquire waterfront access along the Spokane River that may be equal to, or greater than, that of the Cd’A City Park. The current Cd’A City Council has done an excellent job positioning themselves to act on this opportunity. They seized the moment in 2014 by acquiring the railroad right of way that runs through the old Atlas Mill site, now known as the Stimson Lumber site. The railroad right-of-way continues west beyond the mill site.

The genius of that acquisition is it creates connectivity for pedestrian access from Riverstone to Mill River and beyond. This right-of-way parallels the Spokane River and everyone loves being near the water. Along with the purchase of the railroad right-of-way, the City Council passed a resolution, 14-049, outlining their vision for public use of the old railroad right-of-way. Now, 47 acres of waterfront access property, the old Atlas Mill/Stimson Mill site, bordering both sides of the city-owned property, has become available for the city to purchase.

These 47 acres have more than 2,500 linear feet of waterfront along the Spokane River and extend from the Spokane River to Seltice Way. Once the acquisition is completed the city can dedicate the waterfront for public use. There can be a multitude of uses along the river and upon some of the property once it is acquired. Discussions on the uses will come later and I am sure public input will be welcomed. For now, the most important thing to do is acquire the property.

The point: Pubic waterfront access in the city of Coeur d’Alene, like that of the Cd’A City Park, has not increased since the early 1900s. If we take into account the loss of Sanders Beach, we may have a net loss of waterfront access even when including the addition of smaller areas at Independence Point, Mill River and the Jewett House. All the while, the population has increased 10-fold of that in 1887.

The city of Cd’A will likely partner with ignite cda to assist with the acquisition. Ignite cda is an urban renewal agency about which I cannot say enough positive things. If you are not familiar with ignite cda, you can access their website to discover some of the many things they have accomplished to promote and enhance the city of Cd’A. Speaking strictly from a parks standpoint, they have helped the city by creating some great legacies. They assisted with Johnson Mill River Park, Riverstone Park and McEuen Park. Those are significant additions to the community and many, many people use and appreciate those facilities. However, these pale to the benefits of the infrastructure improvements that ignite cda has made, allowing the city to plan for the growth it has been experiencing.

A group known as the “Friends of the Spokane River Corridor” has launched a campaign titled “A Splash of Blue.” This group is encouraging the mayor and City Council to move forward with this acquisition so all of us, residents and visitors, can get their “Splash of Blue.” You can access this group and their “Splash of Blue” campaign on Facebook: Splash of Blue — Coeur d’Alene

And now, here we are. The city (and probably ignite cda) have an opportunity to do something that has never been done before, and looking at the availability of other waterfront areas, this opportunity may never present itself again. I personally applaud the efforts of the City Council and the city staff for their consideration of this acquisition. I think all of us should be thanking them since all of us can benefit from their actions.

Contact the council members and encourage them to finalize the acquisition. Better yet, attend the council meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 13 in the Cd’A Public Library Community Room when they bring the idea forward for a vote.

• • •

Doug Eastwood is the now retired parks director for the city of Coeur d’Alene.

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