Saturday, December 02, 2023

Council gets look at Sand Creek Connections

Staff Writer | October 29, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — City councilors got a sneak peek earlier this week at the proposed Sand Creek Connections project, a collaborative effort to create a space for the community to connect and talk.

Katie Cox, executive director of the Kaniksu Land Trust, talked to the Sandpoint City Council on Oct. 18 about the project’s objectives and intended process. To introduce her team’s efforts, she read a land acknowledgment from the Kalispel Tribe, a partner in the project.

“We would like to acknowledge we are gathered on the indigenous lands of Turtle Island, the ancestral name for what is now called North America,” Cox read. “More specifically, we acknowledge the Kalispel, Spokane, Colville and quarterly tribes, sovereign nations who since time immemorial, have been the caretakers of this region's lands and waterways. These tribal nations have made significant contributions to the vibrant fabric of our broader community. We honor and respect our enduring relationship with the tribes, the land and the water.”

The project is expected to create awareness of the unique ecosystem in Sand Creek, develop better public access — including a new boat launch, encourage stewardship, and unify the area with the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan. The three primary focuses will be recreation access, conservation, and education.

Kaniksu Land Trust, the city of Ponderay, the city of Sandpoint, the Kalispel Tribe, the National Parks Service, and the Kinnikinnick Native Plant Society have all been a part of the planning team that set goals for the project.

A primary aim of the group is to achieve a better understanding of the Sand Creek Basin as a community asset for the preservation of natural resources, education, and access. Other goals include identifying the community’s vision for the basin and developing strategies to accomplish that. Inventory and analysis of plants, wildlife, and water are also in the works.

While the project area stretches from Sandpoint to Ponderay, a special focus area was identified between Popsicle Bridge and Schweitzer Cutoff Road.

Cox said plans for a new boat launch at Sandpoint Visitors Center will also contribute to the project’s success.

“That builds on the idea of this water trail … being connected with the story of the Kalispel Tribe and the canoe culture, and how they use this water, and connect it to other spots along the lake that the Kalispel Tribe [owns],” she said.

To set the project in motion, a subcommittee assigned from land and resource organizations applied for a National Parks Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Grant.

“The National Park Service supports us through a planning community focused on giving us all the experience of their planning team,” Cox said. “It allows a focus on work that combines conservation, education, and access. And much like the waterfront master plan, we know that if we don't plan with vision and purpose, it will be planned for us.”

At the beginning of the planning process, organizers reached out to landowners with property bordering Sand Creek.

“Many people along this corridor have lived there 30 years or more, so they're very in tune with what's there currently,” Cox said. “Gathering those values, looking at — what are the opportunities and also what are the concerns? What do they experience on a daily basis down at popsicle bridge with the bike trail? What are the things that they are concerned about for now and in the future? It was really important to us to make sure that one of our first efforts was to go out to those adjacent landowners and bring them in and make sure that we have, throughout this whole process, continual conversation with the landowners.”

Moving forward, the team is expected to create action strategies based on community goals and host public engagement opportunities. By summer of 2024, they hope to have a final product of a Sand Creek Community Vision Document.

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