Why Waikiki? The history and future of Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve

December 11, 2020

A River Runs Through It—and People Too! Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve: New Conservancy Land Open to the Public

Thanks to you, we did it! On October 15th, Your Conservancy bought a spectacular 95-acre property on the Little Spokane River. The Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve is a place for people of all ages to soon enjoy the outdoors. Significantly, it adjoins a 116-acre Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) property, which already has miles of walking trails. In the very near future we’ll open the new preserve to the public and start restoring some of the diverse habitat.

What makes it special? For one thing, it is in the middle of densely populated neighborhoods. For another, it was up for sale and already laid out for residential development. Best of all, the Spokane Aquifer gushes through the WDFW property and brings millions of gallons of cold, clear water to our new preserve. Our Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve has a priceless 1,700 feet of shoreline along the meandering Little Spokane River, plus a ponderosa pine forest, abundant meadows, and ponds that make it superb habitat for native fish and other wildlife.

Our goals for the nature preserve include improved fish habitat, open space preservation, youth education, wildlife habitat, and, most of all, public access for hiking, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, bird watching, fishing, and dog walking (on leash).

The preserve is in northern Spokane, just 1.5 miles north of Whitworth University. Foot access is through the WDFW land. In the early 1900s this property was the site of the Waikiki Dairy, owned by Jay Graves, famous for bringing Whitworth University and the Olmsted brothers to Spokane a century ago.

INLC Rides to the Rescue

In 2016, WDFW considered surplussing its Waikiki Springs property. The Fairwood Park community, led by Rob Allen and Chris Zeller, fought the effort with a “Save the Switchbacks” campaign. They argued that the habitat was more important than ever and the land was well-loved by people looking for a place to stroll, walk their dogs, or bird watch. The Mead High School cross-country running team trained there. In 2018 the Spokesman Review ran a story about their effort, which alerted State Representative Marcus Riccelli to the problem. He immediately contacted Rob Allen. (See https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2018/mar/15/state-land-long-used-as-unofficial-park-in-north-s/).

When Allen discovered that long-hidden covenants prohibited the WDFW surplussing plan, he turned to the adjoining 95 acres, which was for sale. Allen says, “If someone doesn’t do something, this property could be lost.” Fortuitously, Allen met INLC’s Chris DeForest at a wine tasting at Vino! hosted by proprietor and brother John Allen, who was then on the Conservancy’s board of directors. INLC lived up to Rob Allen’s description as “the perfect group to come to the rescue” by taking the bit in its teeth to begin negotiating a deal to buy the property.

Thanks to your years of support for the Conservancy, the staff and board were ready to spring into action. Todd Dunfield, Community Conservation Program Manager, led the charge. When he joined the Conservancy in 2018 he immediately fell in love with the property. He started hikes to Waikiki Springs, tirelessly built relationships, and doggedly pursued funding.

In record time, Ricelli and State Senator Andy Billig secured that funding through the Washington State Capital Budget. Riccelli—recognized for supporting the new WSU Medical School in Spokane, increasing dental access for low income individuals, and leading efforts to provide free breakfast and lunch for school children—grew up near the future preserve and enjoys taking his family on outings to the WDFW property.

He enthusiastically writes, “The Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve is a lynchpin in an overall effort to maintain the ecology of the Little Spokane River. Thanks to the surrounding neighborhood residents, INLC, the Spokane Tribe, and state funding we are able to not only protect and preserve the immense natural beauty of this land, but also chart a course that will benefit our children’s generation and generations to come.”

The Wonders of the Preserve

This nature preserve represents the best of the Inland Northwest, with not only a vibrant river, but also an upland forest, a meadow, and a riparian corridor of land along the river.

The upland forest, studded with rocky cliffs, contains numerous healthy ponderosa pines. Understory species include blue elderberry, mock orange, red flowering currant, and wood rose. Wildflowers abound, such as bright yellow arrowleaf balsamroot, purple lupine, orange and gold blanket flower, and pink bitterroot. The meadow provides habitat for birds. It contains willows and small cottonwoods, as well as a variety of invasive plants (a focus of future hands-on restoration activities).

The riparian zone, including the river, is the area’s star attribute, with cottonwood, aspen, dogwood, spirea, ocean spray, and serviceberry. The river has back channels, which are ideal habitat for a variety of fish and amphibians.

Throughout the property there is plentiful wildlife, particularly moose, deer, ducks, and geese. Great Blue Herons take flight over the water, Bald Eagles nest in a majestic ponderosa pine just on the other side of the river, and coyotes, whose eerie howls can be heard for miles, hunt for prey.

Most importantly, naturally occurring springs upstream provide abundant water. Thanks to broadleaf vegetation along the river shores as well as the ground water discharge, the water remains relatively cool even during the hot summer months. Coupled with the perfectly sized rock cobbles on the river bottom, this is ideal spawning habitat for fish.

Preservation Partners

With our partners, we are planning for the management and operation of this water-rich urban oasis. The Spokane Tribe of Indians is the Conservancy’s primary collaborator for the Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve. The preserve is on the Tribe’s ancestral lands, within the usual and accustomed area of the Tribe. Together, we have a chance to share the area’s wonderful attributes with others. The Tribe’s Division of Natural Resources is excited to partner with INLC to enhance habitat and support other projects they are currently working on.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is also a seminal partner. Not only does the Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve adjoin their 116-acre property, but access is through it. In turn, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is delighted to be working with the Conservancy. Jerrod Ploof, Regional Lands Agent for Region 1, says,

It’s great to nearly double the size of the land accessible to the public for recreation along the river. We’re looking forward to working with the Conservancy. Conserving this property that otherwise could have been developed is awesome.

Models from Other Land Trusts

Although permanently owning and managing property is a first for INLC, it is not for other land trusts. Chelan-Douglas Land Trust in Eastern Washington has many such properties. Notably, the nearby Kaniksu Land Trust owns and manages the delightful Pine Street Woods. This 180-acre local community forest, a year-round place for recreation and education just outside of Sandpoint, ID, is a model for our management of the Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve. (See https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2020/oct/08/community-forest-pine-street-woods-proves-to-be-co/).

It is the Conservancy’s good fortune to have an experienced preserve manager on staff, Rose Richardson. Our own Conservation and Stewardship Specialist, she previously worked for Whatcom Land Trust, which owns and manages over 93 preserve properties. These Whatcom preserves, all open to the public, are maintained and stewarded by staff and a fleet of 90 Volunteer Land Stewards.

What’s In Store

In addition to providing wildlife habitat and incredible public access along the Little Spokane River, the Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve will be a cornerstone of the Conservancy’s recreational and educational activities. “Field Fridays,” where volunteers help improve the land, and “Grounded in Nature” educational events are in the works. There is much to be done, from planting native shrubs and trees, to Fire-wise thinning, to trail building, to noxious weed removal. It is a fantastic place for stewardship building, education, arts activities such as yoga in the woods and nature journaling, and education. The Conservancy has already been working with the local Mead School District, and hopes to team up with the Fairwood Farmer’s Market KERNEL program (Kids Eating Right – Nutrition and Exercise for Life), started by Catholic Charities.

Want to Help?

Conservancy staff will train Volunteer Land Stewards to perform specific monitoring or restoration tasks to enhance habitat, educate visitors about permitted uses, and collect field data for management purposes. Protecting the Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve and other properties helps to slow climate change, which scientists assert brings the warmer weather that contributes to disastrous wild fires. Increasing public lands is also an economic benefit to Spokane, by attracting tourism.

Above all, it is not just the Waikiki Springs Nature Preserve neighbors, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and our state legislatures that make this amazing project, and other projects such as Rimrock to Riverside, possible. It is you, our dedicated supporters. We cannot do this without you. Sink or swim, we are all in this together. With your help, we are definitely swimming. Thank you!

Rob Allen plans to help develop more parking for the combined preserves and volunteer for improvement activities. “I can’t help but get involved.”

What will you do?

Stay tuned for more communication from the Conservancy about when this land will officially be open to the public.

Please click this link to join us and continue your support: https://www.inlandnwland.org/give-today Your support enables us to create and maintain trails, signs, and nature education.

To learn how to become a Volunteer Land Steward, click here: https://www.inlandnwland.org/volunteer-land-steward-program