Carol Stobie understood the value of the Centennial Trail long before it earned a distinction from the other Washington.
As a member of the Valley Striders, a senior exercise group, Stobie can be found along some point of the 37-mile pathway most mornings with her fellow walkers. The routine is accentuated by the stunning landscape that frames the trail, from the steady current of the Spokane River to towering pine trees and a collection of indigenous creatures that share the route with passing humans.
“It’s so diverse,” Stobie said. “It seems like everywhere you go on the trail, there’s a different view.”
That perspective gained some additional prestige last month as the Centennial Trail was officially designated as a National Recreational Trail by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. The news from Washington, D.C., means the winding riverside course now joins over 1,000 trails across the U.S. in an elite category, similar to that reserved for national parks. In Washington, the list includes well-known paths such as the Quinalt Loop, Yakima Greenway Path and the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.
Stobie was one of a number of area residents to pass along congratulations to Kaye Turner, executive director of the Friends of the Centennial Trail, following the announcement. The nonprofit group provides advocacy and support on behalf of the trail while serving as the resident source of history.
“It’s quite an honor,” said Turner. “This was really a cooperative effort from so many people and groups. The entire community rallied to get this designation.”
The application itself was submitted last October and included letters of support from jurisdictions throughout Spokane County. The Centennial Trail joined 31 trails in a total of 15 states as new National Recreation Trails, adding over 700 miles to the overall system. A dedication ceremony, attended by government officials, representatives of civic groups and residents, was held June 18 at Veterans Park in downtown Spokane.
In addition to technical assistance and general esteem that goes with the designation, Turner said the trail will benefit from increased opportunities for state and federal grants to support maintenance and ongoing projects to improve connections along the trail. The new status will also be acknowledged with a series of signs along the route.
“I think we showed the (National Trails) program who we are and what the community has done to bring this trail here,” Turner said. “Now that we have this designation, it kind of gives us a lift up.”
The foundation of the project can be traced back to the early part of the 20th century when the city of Spokane hired John and Frederick Olmsted – founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects and pioneers in the development of parks and open space throughout the U.S. – to evaluate the current parks and recreation system. The Olmsted Report, released in 1907, included recommendations for the establishment of future parks as well as the preservation of existing natural resources. The list, which would lead to the construction of sites like the Finch Arboretum and Downriver Park, also included counsel to set aside land near the banks of the Spokane River.
Decades later, a man named Denny Ashlock emerged as the catalyst for an idea to build a 10.5-mile trail along the Spokane River between Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake. The goal, Ashlock said, was to have construction completed in time for Washington’s 100-year celebration in 1989 – the path, in turn, would be known as the Centennial Trail.
Ashlock, who was instrumental in the formation of the Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District and later proposed the framework for what would become the CenterPlace Regional Event Center and Discovery Park in the Mirabeau Point area, worked with local leaders to generate enthusiasm for the trail.
Mike Stone, current director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Spokane Valley, recalls the “impressive level of collaboration among jurisdictions” that contributed to the development of the trail.
“When you think about the effort and the coordination that took place, it’s pretty amazing,” said Stone, who worked for the Spokane Parks and Recreation department at the time the trail was being built. “People put aside petty differences and worked together to make it happen.”
Buoyed by community donations, state grants and the donation of land by the Inland Empire Paper Co., the project moved steadily along. The bulk of the 37-mile course was built between 1989 and 1991. A 24-mile stretch, known as the North Idaho Centennial Trail would follow.
The Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation main office is now located in CenterPlace, less than a quarter-mile from a trailhead near Mirabeau Point Park – another one of Ashlock’s ideas. Stone said trail use continues to increase each year as evidenced by the joggers, cyclists, walkers, inline skaters (and even cross-country skiers in the winter) who utilize the course for recreation and exercise.
“I think it’s more popular now than when it was first built,” Stone said. “It’s helping people to live healthier.”
Peggy Doering wasted little time incorporating the Centennial Trail into the annual community celebration known as Valleyfest when the festivities moved to Mirabeau Point Park in 2005. A 5K run and bike corral have become staples of the event each year.
“The trail is a fabulous community asset,” Doering said. “It’s wonderful to have a path so close to the river where it’s so peaceful and quiet. Even though you’re just minutes from the freeway, it doesn’t feel like you’re in the city anymore.”
In addition to the regular turnout of area residents, a number of nonprofit groups gather annually along the trail as part of awareness events that bring attention to a cause. The Inland Northwest branch of the Alzheimer’s Association has held their Memory Walk each autumn since 1996 on various parts of the trail and currently convenes at CenterPlace in Spokane Valley for the September fundraiser.
“The Centennial Trail is a brand that carries respect and quality with it,” said Joel Loiacono, executive director of the local Alzheimer’s Association. “I think most people would agree it’s one of our real treasures.”