Spokane River Water-Quality Study to Highlight EWU Spring Honors Course

Annual visit to Spokane River part of curriculum

February 15, 2023 By David Meany

English and philosophy professor Paul Lindholdt takes students in his honors course to the shores of the Spokane River every spring. Students read about the river as part of the First Year Experience (FYE) honors course named for the river.

The course pivots on The Spokane River, a book Lindholdt edited and cowrote in 2018. He dedicates all the royalties from the book to the nonprofit Spokane Riverkeeper. In fact, the Riverkeeper’s resident biologist guides Eastern students on the annual field visit as they conduct turbidity testing. Turbidity is a measure of river health based on the loading of silt and other effluents. Excessive turbidity can be deadly for fish and the aquatic creatures on which fish feed. Much of the turbidity at the test site comes from agricultural inputs and eroding upstream fields.

The site for the annual class outing, People’s Park, is the confluence of Hangman Creek and the Spokane River. That site is culturally rich.

“In 2005-2006, EWU Archaeological and Historical Services did a dig at People’s Park,” says Lindholdt. “The dig uncovered 60,000 artifacts. Radiocarbon dating found some of them to be over 8,000 years old.”

Riverkeeper Jerry White speaks to members of Paul Lindholdt’s class during the spring 2022 visit.

That prehistoric date, the honors class students have learned, makes present-day People’s Park the oldest continuously occupied site in present-day Washington state, according to the EWU archaeologists. And according to Lindholdt, fish were so plentiful prior to the construction of Little Falls Dam without fish ladders in 1911, that the three bands of the Spokane Tribe could share their namesake river’s bounty with people that gathered there from far away.

The fish were so abundant, the tribe appointed a salmon chief, or chiefs, to regulate the ways the fish were taken – whether by net, weir, or spear – and the exact number of fish to be gathered and dried for storage. The salmon chief bore an ornamented club that has become a key part of the archaeological record.

Enrolled students also learn through the course how a half-century after dams snuffed fish runs out, People’s Park hosted an encampment during Expo ’74. Lindholdt points out some 5,500 people resided in the park during the summer of 1974. They policed themselves and shared resources, much like the Indigenous people had always done.

Former EWU Africana Studies director Dr. Robert Bartlett joins the Honors spring outing each year. “The river is closed to fishing right now,” says Bartlett. “As a lover of rivers, and a longtime fly fisherman, my story comes from fishing many rivers throughout my life, most recently the Spokane.”

Have an interest in this fascinating dive into the Spokane River? Lindholdt will teach the FYE Honors course again this spring. As in his environmental humanities and literature classes, he hopes his students come away with a taste for community engagement.

“An old saying from environmental studies is ‘think globally and act locally’,” Lindholdt said. “Community engagement on the local level might translate into greater awareness today of global climate change.”

To view a video of the spring 2022 field trip to the river with EWU students, please watch this video.