11 Reasons to Love the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley

click to enlarge 11 Reasons to Love the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley
Illustration for Inland 360 by Sam Coulter

Stories by Michelle Schmidt and Jennifer K. Bauer

People often have a special relationship with the place they call home. But sometimes it’s not so obvious to outsiders why we love where we live.

Situated 30 miles apart, the Quad Cities of Lewiston-Clarkston and Moscow-Pullman are united by commerce, social networks and schools in two states. However, anyone living here knows they are distinctly different communities.

In the two-part series “Why We Love Where We Live” we’re breaking down the best things about living in each half of the quad, along with some of the not so good, starting this week with the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. Where some see beauty and opportunity, others may only notice a Costco and the strong smell of a paper mill (admit it people of Moscow, it’s what you think, and often say, when someone mentions the valley).

Look for the second installment June 6, when we give Moscow-Pullman the once-over.

click to enlarge 11 Reasons to Love the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley
Tribune/Pete Caster
Portrait photographer Tatiana Pilant, of Lewiston, right, takes advantage of a beautiful rainbow-clad sunset to shoot Hannah Curtis, 20, of Clarkston, on Thursday, May 24, 2018, atop the Spiral Highway in Lewiston. Photo Inland 360

No. 1

Because the rivers are right outside our door ...

Whether you like to fish, boat, swim or argue about dams, the Snake and Clearwater rivers indulge interests of all types.

The two rivers and their confluence are central to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley — geographically and otherwise. A hub of both economic and recreational activity, summertime brings the sounds of boat motors, splashing and shrieks of laughter from those willing to brave the cold waters of the Clearwater or the murky and occasionally goose poop-infested waters of the Snake. Paddleboarding and kayaking are favorite activities, alongside motorized water sports like jet skiing, wakeboarding and tubing. Fishing is popular year-round, whether from the banks or boats.

But it’s not just about what we do in our rivers, we also like looking at them. Many people in the valley get to see these waterways every day, lending a visual respite from the surrounding arid landscape. Even those who won’t dip a toe in the water enjoy watching it go by, and hundreds of homes are built with a view.

The rivers also are a source of economic and political controversy. The continued decline of steelhead and other native species of fish have some in favor of removing the dams that create cheap electricity and favorable conditions for barge shipping, cruise ships and motorized water sports. Some arguments for removal are that it would make the river more favorable to fish and fishing and return some sizeable beaches to the valley. — MS

click to enlarge 11 Reasons to Love the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley
Tribune/Pete Caster
A woman rollerblades along the Lewiston Levee Parkway Trail on April 10, 2019, in Lewiston. Photo Inland 360

No. 2

Because our trails are tops…

It’s a sure sign of spring when the levee greenbelt trails come to life with walkers, runners, bikers and anyone else looking to soak up sunshine along the river. Built in conjunction with the levee system, the Army Corp of Engineers maintains nearly 19 miles of paved pathway that runs along the east and west side of the Snake River bordering Lewiston and Clarkston. In addition to human users and their canine companions, expect to share the pathway with seagulls, hissing geese, fishing osprey, yellow-bellied marmots and the occasional friendly squirrel.

Off the pavement, the adventure continues at nearby Hells Gate State Park where miles of trails crisscross the hillsides, taking users to a vantage point looking into Hells Canyon and along the river next to basalt column cliffs. Popular among mountain bikers, horse riders, hikers and runners, the system offers access to protected wild areas and their inhabitants, including birds, deer and bighorn sheep. — MS

click to enlarge 11 Reasons to Love the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley
Tribune/Pete Caster
A man in a boat fishes the waters of confluence of the Snake River and the Clearwater River on the morning of Nov. 24, 2018. Photo Inland 360

No. 3

Because our bridge is blue...

If you measured the popularity of a place based on how many times it has been photographed, the Interstate Bridge between Lewiston and Clarkston would likely come out on top as a valley favorite.

But the Blue Bridge, as the barely-four-lane vertical-lift drawbridge is known by locals, wasn’t always blue. Up until 1988, the steel structure was a “vomit green,” as described by Donald Tuschoff, the Clarkston businessman credited with persuading the Washington Department of Transportation to paint it a sky blue. According to a Lewiston Tribune story, he’d seen one in Kennewick and thought it might attract attention to the bridge and confluence area. And thus, it became one of only four blue bridges in the state of Washington.

The bridge’s color was the center of fiery community debate as recently as 1999. In anticipation of its re-painting in 2002, Asotin County commissioners initially requested gray, tan or beige. After vocal protests to the contrary, the request was rescinded and blue stayed.

The bridge was built in 1939 to allow marine traffic to navigate that portion of the river. It replaced a bridge built in 1899, which operated as a toll bridge for a number of years. The cost for passage was 5 cents for foot traffic and 10 cents for horses or wagons. Before that, the river was crossed at Red Wolf Crossing, seven miles west of Clarkston. — MS

click to enlarge 11 Reasons to Love the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley
Tribune/Pete Caster
Deer graze in field south of Lewiston along the Snake River on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Photo Inland 360

No. 4

Because we’re still wild enough for the animals…

For those who like wildlife, the valley offers numerous viewing opportunities in your own backyard — sometimes literally. Deer and elk populate nearby forests, rangeland and some neighborhoods. Every now and then, a moose or cougar wanders into town and makes the front page of the newspaper. Bighorn sheep can be seen along Hells Canyon. Coyotes, wolves and black bears live in the region. Our rivers are home to steelhead, trout, bass and massive 100-year-old sturgeon that swim in its depths. Larger birds include bald eagles, osprey, blue herons, wild turkeys, pheasants, chukars, red-tail hawks and pelicans, and a wide number of smaller species live in or migrate to the valley as well.

Of course, with so much wildlife comes recreational opportunities to hunt and fish, though many prefer to merely get out and look. — MS

No. 5

Because things get wilder every September...

The spirit of the West lives on in the 84-year tradition of the Lewiston Roundup. Rodeo is a competitive sport but also an exhibition of the skills men and women use in cattle ranching. The Lewiston rodeo’s motto is “She’s Wild,” and that’s the cry you’ll hear rising in early September when rodeo princesses and cowboys ride in the parade through downtown Lewiston and compete in evening events before crowds of thousands at the Lewiston Roundup grounds. — JKB

11 Reasons to Love the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley
Taken 4/24/2017 in the Normal Hill area of Lewiston, Idaho. Taken by Jay Armstrong of Lewiston, Idaho.

No. 6

Because in the spring the valley looks like heaven...

Every April, the streets look like they are lined with pink and white clouds as dogwoods come into bloom.

Lewiston’s Dogwood Festival is largely to credit with the botanical spectacle. The festival began in 1985 as an effort to beautify the city, promote arts and culture, boost civic pride and encourage tourism, according to Lewiston Tribune archives.

The festival has evolved over the years and once included garden tours, festival royalty and dogwood sales. For several years, it also hosted a dogwood judging contest to encourage people to plant dogwoods. Art Under the Elms, now a cornerstone of the festival, was added in 1987, and other community events, like the Seaport River Run, joined the Dogwood Festival banner. What began as an eight-day festival in early May now lasts the month of April.

The festival owes much of its beginning to Deanna Vickers, wife of the then-president of Lewis-Clark State College. She was assisted by others, including Sharon Taylor-Hall of Lewiston, who Vickers credits with the festival’s theme, according to Tribune archives.

An unlikely tree to celebrate in a temperate desert, the dogwood is native to the South and typically finds its home in the damp shade as an understory tree. But several dogwoods were thriving in the valley prior to the festival’s beginning. Taylor-Hall wanted to see more and thought they’d be a suitable festival theme, she said. Nearly 35 years later, the number of dogwoods in the landscape has increased exponentially and can be seen along main roads and in every neighborhood. — MS

11 Reasons to Love the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley
On December 7, a very cold evening, we visited Locomotive Park and enjoyed all the Christmas lights and music. Taken by Mary Hayward of Clarkston.

No. 7

Because we’ve got community-powered holiday spirit...

In most places, if a big, bright star appears in the sky right before Christmas, it’s seen as a heavenly omen. Here in the in valley, it just means the holiday season has arrived.

A Christmas star has appeared on the Lewiston Hill during the Christmas season since the 1950s. thanks to civic groups, first the Clarkston Jaycees and now the Clarkston Lions who took over sometime during the 1970s, according to Lewiston Tribune archives. A cross appears in its place in the weeks leading up to Easter.

Both the star and cross lay in lines of wire and LED bulbs overtop the C that overlooks Clarkston. A total of 382 bulbs are used for the star, and 247 are used for the cross. Prior to the installation of electrical lines, the Clarkston Jaycees would work in shifts to keep a generator going so the lights would remain on. Costs of the display are covered by donations to the Clarkston Lions.

The Winter Spirit light display featuring millions of lights at Locomotive Park in Lewiston began in 1994, largely through the effort of Larry Kopczynski and a committee that made the project possible. Each year, community volunteers come out to put up and take down the lights, and area businesses and individuals sponsor power costs of running the display. — MS

click to enlarge 11 Reasons to Love the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley
Tribune/Pete Caster
Lewis-Clark State College's Tyler McDowell dives back to first base on a pick-off throw from the catcher as St. Thomas first baseman Nick Moisant attempts to tag him out during the bottom of the fourth inning of a first-round NAIA World Series game on Friday, May 25, 2018, at Harris Field in Lewiston. Photo Inland 360

No. 8

Because it doesn’t get more American than baseball on Normal Hill...

Players compete for the title baseball champion of the world in Lewiston, or at least the title of champions of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which represents the small colleges and universities of North America. The Avista NAIA World Series takes place at Lewis-Clark State College, the winningest school in the competition. The college stands in Lewiston’s historic Normal Hill neighborhood, and the multi-day tournament gets underway Friday. — JKB

click to enlarge 11 Reasons to Love the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley
Mary Hayward
Nez Perce Culture Day at Spalding May 18, 2019. Photo by Mary Hayward.

No. 9

Because history is not in the past …

Yes, Lewiston and Clarkston are named for the explorers Lewis and Clark, who once slept here.  That’s a minor footnote in valley history compared to the 10,000 years that came before. The valley is home to the Nimiipuu, the Nez Perce people who continue to share their traditional ways of life at community events. Their centuries-old stories are embedded in the landscape, from ancient petroglyphs along the river, to large landmarks like Ant and the Yellowjacket and Coyote’s Fish Net near the Nez Perce National Historical Park at Spalding outside Lewiston. — JKB

No. 10

Because it’s called the Banana Belt of the Inland Northwest for good reason...

Sheltered between hills a little more than 700 feet above sea level, the valley enjoys a mild climate.

This is especially true in the winter. While snow blankets higher elevations just miles away, it may rain in Lewiston. When it does snow, it sticks around for a photo and maybe a weekend sled run and then moves along. While Palouse neighbors are shovelling sidewalks and trudging through slush, people in the valley are strolling dogs and playing golf at courses open year-round. Occasionally, there are winters where the thermometer doesn’t drop below zero.

Spring comes earlier than it does to surrounding towns, and the valley enjoys a long growing season that yields bountiful garden harvests. The climate favors grapes, which is why the valley is a growing wine destination.

Like your summers hot? The valley can deliver. At the season’s peak it bakes in 100-plus degree afternoon heat for days in a row, which is why permanent backyard swimming pools are common. Things cool off in the evenings and in long, mild autumns. — JKB

click to enlarge 11 Reasons to Love the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley
Tribune/ Pete Caster
Chris Kowrach, left, and Ken Waide, both of Julietta, pick grapes off the vine at the Spiral Rock Vineyard on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Lewiston. Photo Inland 360.

No. 11

Because, if you want to imbibe, there are options…

As mentioned in No. 10, the valley is a growing destination for wine lovers because its climate and terrain favor grape growing. The Lewis-­Clark Valley American Viticultural Area is defined by particular geological characteristics, steep river canyons and plateaus, and is home to a growing number of vineyards and wineries.

If wine is not to your taste, the valley is home to a vast array of watering holes, including a hearty assortment of dive bars — unpretentious establishments that have stood the test of time and quenched the thirst of regulars for decades. Unlike more metropolitan areas, these bars are generally unifested by hipsters seeking novel experiences.

Then there’s the cannabis option, if you’re on the Clarkston side of the valley where it’s legal. — JKB