Home Outdoor education SUP back-and-forth on Little Spokane shines a light on management and equity challenges faced by land managers

SUP back-and-forth on Little Spokane shines a light on management and equity challenges faced by land managers

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A decision to ban stand-up paddle boarding on the Little Spokane River in May sparked a torrent of criticism from some dedicated users and highlighted an ongoing challenge: How land managers are handling an unprecedented influx. outdoor recreation?

“It’s yin and yang,” said Cindy Whaley, Washington state commissioner of parks and recreation in Spokane.

“We need to provide opportunities for recreation and places for people to recreate themselves, and we need to protect those assets that are unique and special. It’s a balancing act.

Washington State Parks suspended its stand-up paddle boarding ban on Wednesday. State parks will gather information, monitor Little Spokane use over the summer, and begin a decision process – including public comment – in the fall. Whaley urged SUPs to participate in this process.

But the justifications underlying the initial ban highlight the “balancing act” that land managers are attempting.

When Washington State Parks first banned SUPs on May 25, it defended the decision with a triad of arguments: increased use of the river, an increase in illegal activity, and the fact that SUPs are more susceptible to fall or enter the water, which is illegal. within 1,500 acres Little Spokane River Natural Area.

While the first two arguments are certainly related, the idea that SUPs are more likely to drop or enter the water on purpose compared to, say, a seated kayaker (which the town now rents on the Little Spokane) seemed to go without saying. some. Upset users protested, noting that state parks had not provided any concrete evidence linking SUP users and the illegal shenanigans.

Some experienced water recreation enthusiasts agree that there was a usage issue on the Little Spokane with large crowds and poor behavior over the past summer. But they also said Washington state parks have done little to enforce and educate existing laws.

That last element – app and education – is important and was highlighted by Diana Dupuis, area manager for state parks, in a sample letter she sent to some disturbed users.

“While there are paddleboarders who are experienced users and abide by the rules and regulations regarding the Little Spokane, there is a large and growing group of users who lack the experience and respect to protect the Little. Spokane, ”Dupuis wrote in the letter. forwarded to The Spokesman-Review. “Easy, low-cost shopping from big box vendors has opened up more challenging water sports, like paddleboarding, to these user groups. We have struggled to regulate them because we simply do not have enough staff to ensure a continuous presence at the staging sites to provide education and our signs are not read or ignored. Waterway law enforcement is also a struggle as it is a major safety issue for our rangers to issue tickets on a waterway such as the Little Spokane. This creates a catch-as-catch-can environment where inroads are difficult to make. This decision was made by the staff of the region and the zone based on the observation and experience of the staff and we have received many positive comments in support of this ban. “

Staffing a large and diverse park system that includes Mount Spokane, Riverside State Park, and Little Spokane Nature Area can be difficult, even in a normal year.

And 2020 was not a normal year.

Outdoor recreation has greatly increased. Washington State Parks recorded 37,549,238 visitors in 2020, despite the fact that all parks were closed from March 25 to May 3. In 2019, the agency recorded 38,456,657 visitors in 12 months of activity.

In Idaho, 7.7 million people visited state parks in 2020, an increase of 1.2 million from the previous record. Of these visitors, 30% were from outside Idaho. This led Idaho State Parks to double camping fees for non-residents this week.

Further afield, Oregon has increased camping fees for non-residents due to overcrowding, Montana has seen a 30% increase in deer and elk hunting tags for non-residents, and participation at the campsite has increased by 28% nationally, according to a High Country News article published this month.

That’s 7.9 million more people staying overnight across the country in 2020.

“There is no doubt that like all public lands, we have seen a huge increase in footfall,” said Whaley. “And we are studying that. Is this a permanent change? “

This is an important question and one that will dictate how State Parks moves forward with the SUP issue on Little Spokane and more broadly.

“With the overall increase in usage, we want to take a holistic approach to recreation management on this part of Little Spokane,” State Parks spokesperson Anna Gill said in an email. “It’s been over 30 years since this section of Little Spokane was designated as a natural area and the rules were written down.

“This is a good time for us to take a step back and make sure we continue to protect the resource, given the increase in visits and modern trends in recreation and natural experience. “

Whaley pointed out the Little Spokane River Natural The area has strict rules to take care of the environment.

It was designed to be a unique and protected area, “she said.” And we only have a few in the state. “

There is another concern which, according to Bernard Kessler, an avid kayaker and canoeist, deserves to be highlighted.

The argument that cheap outdoor gear has led to an increase in bad behavior is classist, he said, specifically citing Dupuis’ comment on “big sellers” opening up access to sports. previously niche. He emailed his comments to the Washington State Parks Commission and provided a copy to The Spokesman-Review.

“This is a FANTASTIC example of how decisions made about regulations advance the insidiousness of mainstream classism and racism,” he said in the email. “I am by no means suggesting that this is intentional. However, when a regulator basically says that people with access to cheaper watercraft makes an area more accessible to them and therefore we need to ban those vehicles, we all have a pretty good idea of ​​the population that is disproportionately left behind. next to.

He goes on to say that a more reasonable response to the overcrowding would be to implement a clearance process for the Little Spokane.

This is a strategy that other land managers adopted during the pandemic.

Yosemite National Park recently began requiring permits for climbers making multi-day attempts in the valley.

Rocky Mountain National Park has an hourly entry reservation system, just like Red Rock Canyon in Nevada.

Whaley doesn’t necessarily buy into the classism argument. Instead, she said, it’s the users’ responsibility to know the rules, regulations, and ethics.

“If you are using something for the first time, you have to understand what the requirements are,” she said.

“Everything you do. Where can I go, where can I not go? You have to educate yourself. You are responsible for.