ENTIAT — Eighteen months from now, this Columbia River-side city will have the park it’s been lobbying for and dreaming about for the past decade. And with it, the beginning of a new identity.
“The park’s going to be the draw. Probably one of the biggest things for this community,” Entiat Mayor Keith Vradenburg said Tuesday evening as people around him lined up for chips and hotdogs alongside a glassy Columbia. Earth-moving equipment was already staged for the task ahead.
Tuesday’s ground-breaking ceremony kicks off an 18-month, $7.3 million project to transform the dated and overworked park where the crowd was standing into a fresh new recreational focal point, with new overnight campsites, an upgraded boat launch and a riverside pedestrian trail.
The Chelan County PUD is both funding the project and keeping a promise it made to the city, which has struggled for an identity since the early 1960s, when its old townsite was submerged in the Columbia, behind the newly constructed Rocky Reach Dam.
The park will enhance the city’s own efforts to build a main-street commercial district along the river’s shoreline to the north, complete with marina.
Vradenburg said two developers are nosing around the area, but want to wait until the park is finished before making commitments for projects that could include a convenience store, hotel and restaurant.
The park will remain closed for construction until Memorial Day weekend, 2015.
Central to the new park will be a dramatic metal sculpture, by Omak tribal artist Smoker Marchand, of Chilcosahaskt, the last chief of the Entiat people.
Chilcosahaskt remained in the valley, refusing to relocate to the Colville Indian Reservation at Nespelem.
Author and tribal elder Wendell George, the chief’s great grandson, directed the crowd Tuesday to face East, the source of the rising sun’s energy; then south, a source of emotional sensitivity; then west, to increase the function of the mind; and, finally, north, to take action, move, and take control of life — the perfect direction on the eve of a historic groundbreaking.