County, city, volunteer groups want to renovate John Shields park, making it more accessible for everyone

Born with a rare birth defect, which prevented the formation of his sacrum, Tyler Byers has used a wheelchair his entire life.

The 40-year-old father of three is an avid racer; last year he completed six marathons. He kayaks and skis. She climbs and is generally seen to be outside, with her children, as much as possible.

However, there are infrastructure limitations of where and when he can be in nature.

“Opportunities like that for people with disabilities, it’s really important to get out,” he said. “The Centennial Trail is nice, but not completely natural.”

Byers was thrilled when he heard about plans to increase all types of access at John H. Shields Park. The 26-acre park, which is jointly owned by the city of Spokane and Spokane County, is located along the Centennial Trail, is near a river and offers accessible hikes as well as close to mountain bike and hiking trails.

“Shields Park is kind of like a Swiss army knife park,” says Paul Knowles of Spokane County. “There’s a lot going on.”

Despite all that it has to offer, this park has a reputation for neglect. More often than not, broken glass lay scattered on the ground. Discarded trash clogs the parking area and it is not uncommon to find drug paraphernalia in the undergrowth.

“This isn’t a place where you’re like, ‘I really want to take my kids,’” Knowles says.

In April, Byers wrote to the county in support of Phase 2 of the Make Beacon Hill project, which will renovate Camp Sekani Park and John H. Shields Park, clear away trash and improve trails, making them more accessible for Byers and everyone else. . The approximately $1 million project will be funded partly through state grants and partly through private grants and endowments.

“As a wheelchair user and father of three elementary school-age children, I am excited about the park’s vision and promise, in particular the feature of wheelchair-accessible natural areas and adaptive hiking access trails,” Byers wrote. “While we are fortunate to live in an area with abundant access to the natural areas around us, there are very few wheelchair accessible areas where I can develop these types of memories with my children. “In addition, I am happy that other children with disabilities can have the opportunity to share their appreciation for the outdoors with their parents, siblings and other family members.”

The project is moving forward with the support of several local non-profit organizations, including the Bower Climbing Coalition. BCC, which maintains outdoor climbing equipment throughout the Spokane area, is holding its annual fundraiser on Sunday. Some of the proceeds will go towards the Make Beacon Public project (see sidebars).

“In addition to cliff maintenance, we want to get into access and get as many people out as possible,” said Kristin Wenzel, president of the Bower Climbing Coalition. “So a large part of our fundraising goal for this event is so that it can be donated to the John Shields Park project.”

John Shields Park has a long history of hiking. The park was purchased in 1987 with the Spokane Mountaineers donating $20,000 towards the purchase while the county paid $30,000, according to a 1986 Spokesman’s Review article. a popular destination for Spokane climbers since at least the 1940s, according to the SR archives. Famous Spokane climbers John Roskelley, Chris Kopczynski and Kim Momb all practiced their skills there. However, the land is privately owned by Jean Betts, requiring public conservation as he considers selling. When he sold the land to the county, he asked that it be named John H. Shields Park in memory of his grandfather.

The purchase secured access and the 1986 SR article noted that “rubbish would be removed, roads would be demolished and seeded with grass and graffiti would be cleared from the rocks.”

The Make Beacon Public Phase 2 project is the latest iteration of that effort. To fund the work, the county has applied for a Washington State Office of Recreation & Conservation grant. Although they have not received any money, Knowles says the project is highly rated. If all goes according to plan, the project will be completed in the fall of 2024, he said.

The project will increase the surface of the trail leading to the rock face, allowing access for adaptive climbers. Under the project plan, there will also be a bouldering park, paid for by the Roskelley Foundation and similar to the one at Riverfront Park. There will also be better signage explaining the history of the park. The project will include more lighting and an expanded parking lot, Knowles said.

Part of a successful RCO project application demonstrates that local organizations can and will support the project. Knowles says the city and county have received $185,000 in private funding from various organizations.

True to its origins, climbing access is a key board for conservation efforts, says Knowles.

“Shields Park and Minnehaha Rocks are very easy to reach climbing areas. Hiking is not usually accessible by nature,” Knowles said. “Here we have a situation where we have some really good main ascent routes for adaptive climbing that are quite accessible with some minor fixes on the trails moving up.”

Myers, whose children are between the ages of 8 and 11, hopes to get to Minnehaha Rocks with them soon and try the adaptive hike outside.

“Sounds really cool,” he said. “If we could get out of the gym and into a real rock environment it would be gas.”

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