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A Property Transformed

Coeur d’Alene’s new Atlas Waterfront Park takes shape on the Spokane River

By Taylor Shillam

A transformation years in the making, Coeur d’Alene’s newest park has been described as the first of its kind. With something to offer every visitor, the Atlas Waterfront Park is an exciting, expansive and accessible new landmark for the City of Coeur d’Alene.

The purchase of 47 acres of waterfront property on the Spokane River at the former Atlas Mill site saw its beginning in the spring of 2017 and became official the following year. The City of Coeur d’Alene purchased the site for nearly $8 million, with big dreams in mind.

The Atlas Mill was founded in 1909 and first supplied railroad ties to the Northern Pacific Railroad. Years later, it would produce cedar and pine boards for siding, decking, trim and fencing as part of the Oregon-based Stimson Lumber Co.

The mill closed in December 2005, following the rise in popularity of vinyl siding and subsequently decreased demand for high-quality wood, making the way for an eventual purchase by the City of Coeur d’Alene.

Funded by Ignite CDA, the driving purpose behind the purchase of the Atlas Mill site was to create a location for permanent, public waterfront access; a location that would also serve to encourage healthy economic development and community engagement.

The city set out to provide a park the entire community could enjoy; and with several thousand feet of shoreline, the park promises an incredible amount of possibility for year-round enjoyment. Located just west of Riverstone, the park boasts a prime location for locals and visitors alike to truly feel like part of the city.

Although the 12-acre park is still a work in progress, with one look at the location it becomes undeniable that an exciting new community hub is on its way.

The space surrounding its large multi-purpose pavilion will provide a home for rotating food trucks throughout the warmer months. With a bright, carefully chosen playground placed alongside the pavilion, the park will surely be a go-to gathering spot for families and friends. (The playground is now officially open for the community’s enjoyment.)

With a few key pieces of nostalgia remaining from the original Atlas Mill site— most notably, two massive flywheels that have returned home after being preserved by a steelworker—the park acknowledges its roots while paving the way for progress.

From one end of the long waterfront park to the other, accessibility, community and innovation are at its heart; and with an expected completion date in spring 2021, the process hasn’t been an easy one.

Coeur d’Alene Parks Director Bill Greenwood described the delays throughout the year as “maddening,” with everything from COVID-19 to wildfires delaying the equipment and personnel needed to bring every piece of the park together.

Despite delays and setbacks, the finished park will undoubtedly be worth the wait, with features beyond anything Coeur d’Alene has seen before.

An impressive portion of the park is ADA-compliant, making it a game-changing, cutting-edge addition to the city’s small collection of parks. With input from the Disability Action Center NW, or DAC, the city has implemented ADA-compliant park features including an ADA-friendly dock, kayak launch, and a ramp providing easy access to the water-friendly dog park.

Greenwood had never seen an ADA-compliant dock system before. When his inspiration for the dock first struck after learning what community members with disabilities will often go through in order to be able to swim, Greenwood looked long and hard across the country for inspiration in an existing design to duplicate for Coeur d’Alene’s accessible dock. There wasn’t one to be found.

After a year and a half of careful design, the accessible dock is steadily coming to fruition. It offers an option for a person in a wheelchair to enter wading-level water or to continue on and let buoyancy take them the rest of the way into a full swim.

Additional features and amenities of the park include an ADA-friendly kayak launch system that will help people in wheelchairs safely enter a kayak, and the dog park, an idea that Greenwood hesitated to bring to life without the right location. The waterfront park, so close to walking trails, residential neighborhoods and the Village at Riverstone, is exactly that perfect location.

Plenty of beach area will provide ample space for swimmers and sunbathers alike, including an ADA-compliant accessible beach area.

The care to detail within the park is evident down to its roots; or rather, its seeds. Greenwood noted a major concern raised by locals: With many riverfront properties’ soil-rich land bordering the water, the high possibility of nitrogen and phosphorus entering the water from fertilizers resulted in raised flags from community members.

To avoid minerals entering the river water, the park will be seeded with clover, including a microclover that doesn’t flower, requires less maintenance, and most importantly, doesn’t require feeding. Microclover is part of a plant genus that pulls nitrogen from the air and converts it into a usable form to feed itself.

The park will undergo a re-seeding before next spring with seeds from an Oregon grower that was hit hard by last summer’s wildfires.

Greenwood looks forward to bringing the new, fertilizer-free concept to the area.

Future plans for the area surrounding the park include a new urban renewal district. The Atlas District will serve to expand the River and Lake districts, and plans are currently underway as city staff, elected officials and Ignite CDA have been working together to involve the public and continue the site’s progression.

The city has stated they aim to “ensure that any economic development initiatives will be successful and provide long-term benefit for our residents. By working with Ignite CDA on an expert financial and market feasibility analysis, it will become clearer as to what opportunities may be available.”

Ignite CDA is an independent public redevelopment agency, committing their time to ensure Coeur d’Alene and its communities are functioning at their best.

With a clear goal to ignite their surrounding community, they believe “something remarkable happens when people unite around shared interests. Visions align. Ideas take shape. Communities thrive.”

They stand behind the interests of locals, advocating for healthier neighborhoods, more attractive public spaces, a strong local economy, and high-quality work and housing opportunities for everyone. To make these happen, Ignite supports redevelopment projects, hoping to provide steadily more reasons to love life in Coeur d’Alene.

As it nears completion, the Atlas Waterfront Park’s impact can already be felt. The buzz has begun as Coeur d’Alene’s community members watch the site come together. It’s a development the City of Coeur d’Alene is rightfully proud of; one that can unite the community in levels not yet reached by our local parks.

Spring isn’t all that far away, and the blooming Atlas Waterfront Park provides something to look forward to throughout the remaining months of winter. Whether you seek a long walk, the freedom to explore fresh water, or a quiet riverside spot combining the feel of a getaway with the comfort of staying close to home, the new park will provide the space for it all.

Some of the many reasons to visit Atlas Waterfront Park are still yet to be revealed; but Coeur d’Alene can count on one thing: The finished park will be nothing like those they’ve ever seen before.

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