SPRING OF HISTORY for Centuries, a Fresh Stream of Water Refreshed Native American Camps; Today, a Tribal Group Works to Restore the City Park Site's Natural Beauty

By Deshais, Nicholas | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), February 20, 2016 | Go to article overview

SPRING OF HISTORY for Centuries, a Fresh Stream of Water Refreshed Native American Camps; Today, a Tribal Group Works to Restore the City Park Site's Natural Beauty


Deshais, Nicholas, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


For countless years, Drumheller Springs was a popular spot for wayfarers, an important source of clean, fresh water between Spokane Falls and the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia rivers nearly 50 miles to the west.

Native people camped at the spot, once noted for its edible and medicinal plants, their last stop before heading to the falls for the summer.

Since the city of Spokane acquired the park in 1968, however, the spring has mostly been an ignored and forgotten aspect of regional history, more of a littered thoroughfare and homeless encampment than cultural touchstone.

But for the past five years, workers and volunteers from Upper Columbia United Tribes have reclaimed the park and are attempting to revert it to what it once was: a biological and cultural garden.

"We've basically adopted the park," said Mark Gauthier, the tribal group's forest practices coordinator, who is leading the restoration effort. "It's owned by the city, but we're taking full- time care of the park."

Gauthier has counted 175 distinct plant species in the 12-acre park, half of which are native, such as black hawthorn and balsamroot. The group sweeps the park and collects garbage.

Last summer, they removed an old concrete pond near the spring thought to be the work of a bygone Eagle Scout. The pond, Gauthier said, collected more than water.

"You wouldn't believe what we found in there," he said.

Last week, the Spokane Park Board approved the transfer of a city- owned parcel to the park department, an expansion that adds new land adjacent to the historic spring and offers the park new prospects.

"That piece of ground offers a fantastic opportunity," Gauthier said. "It's basically like a lawn. It'd be a perfect space for having a Spokane tribal event there."

Until recently, that third of an acre had a house sitting on it, but after a fire and a foreclosure, the city took possession of the land. Councilwoman Candace Mumm, who joined the Park Board this year as the council's liaison, noticed the parcel on the city's list of surplus properties it intended to sell. Mumm brought the property to the Park Board's attention, and city officials agreed the land should be in parks' hands.

"It was not a tough decision," Park Board President Chris Wright said. "The idea was let's take it and preserve it because it's an important historical piece."

The region's first people frequented the spot for hundreds of years, but after European descendants arrived in the area, the area near the spring featured another notable Native American contribution: the region's first school, run by Chief Garry of the Spokane Tribe.

A plaque sits near the park, detailing Garry's contributions with the school, to relations between Indians and early settlers and as an influential figure in Spokane history.

Gauthier said the ultimate goal is to make the park a learning place once again, with interpretive signs and opportunities for field trips, which would teach people about the native plants and wildlife, and the spring's central place in Native American history. …

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