When it comes to maintaining one of the region’s most popular parks, the city of Liberty Lake may handle chores like watering and general repairs;
but a group known as Friends of Pavillion Park takes care of the atmosphere.
The roots of the citizen-led effort go back to the origins of Pavillion Park, a 14-acre greenspace situated in the center of Liberty Lake and home to a diverse schedule that includes concerts, movies, community runs, fundraisers and more. Liberty Lake luminaries like former Mayor Steve Peterson and current Mayor Wendy Van Orman have made it a point to single out the park as one of the area’s unique treasures while acknowledging Friends of Pavillion Park as a catalyst in cultivating the site into nothing short of a destination point.
“They’re just a very impressive group,” said Michelle Griffin, Liberty Lake recreation coordinator. “They’ve brought a lot of recreational opportunities to the residents of Liberty Lake.”
In addition to the annual summer schedule of free movies and concerts – where crowds gather in a natural turf ampitheatre that has held up to 6,000 – FOPP coordinates the Liberty Lake Fun Run, a well-attended ode to exercise that celebrated its seventh running last July. The group also provides a series of scholarships each year to local high school seniors.
Ross Schneidmiller can recall a time when the idea of a large-scale park in the Liberty Lake area consisted of little more than an undeveloped plot of land and a cluttered notebook full of signatures and supportive comments from citizens. The Schneidmiller family was responsible for donating the property for the park back in 1992 while Greenstone Corp., a Liberty Lake-based development company, pitched in with donated labor.
Talk of forming a civic organization to act as a steward for the park began in 1993, Schneidmiller said.
“There’s a real spirit of community in Liberty Lake throughout its history,” he added. “I remember people talking about how it would be nice if the community continued to have a strong influence in the park.”
Schneidmiller gives credit to former Spokane County Parks Director Sam Angove for “having the vision to create the park” and points to the contributions of residents like the late Lud Kramer, Jim Frank of Greenstone, Margaret Barnes and Jan Harris for their support and advocacy as the park began to form. The first phase of the greenspace was finished in 1996 while the final stage was completed in time for the summer of 1999. Pavillion Park’s official dedication took place in July of that year.
Schneidmiller also noted that FOPP served as the starting point for a community-led effort to build an extensive trail system throughout Liberty Lake that is now considered one of the state’s best. The commitment to Pavillion Park, Schneidmiller added, “set a standard for what’s happening with parks and trails in the city today.”
A longtime Liberty Lake resident and founder of the Liberty Lake Historical Society, Schneidmiller said the park’s name and signature canopy/stage were taken from the well-known dance pavilion that stood near the lake for years and had its heyday in the early part of the 20th century. The unique spelling – with two l’s – came about because of an original ticket to the venue that Schneidmiller had among his collection of local artifacts.
“I’ve heard people say the two l’s also stand for Liberty Lake,” he said.
The land donation made a matching state grant possible, although Schneidmiller remembers the notebook with citizen testimonials being one of the keys to securing funds from Olympia.
“The committee was really impressed that all these people were pledging to work on the park themselves,” he said.
Following the incorporation of Liberty Lake in 2001, a debate over future ownership of the park took place between the new city and Spokane County, which had owned and maintained the site for years. Finally, after a series of less-than-cordial discussions with county officials, the city purchased the park for the token amount of $5 in 2003 while agreeing to take over maintenance duties
These days, FOPP generates funds for programming through donations, an annual holiday gala at the Davenport Hotel and an allotment from Liberty Lake’s lodging tax. Last year, for the first time in the history of the group, donations were collected during concerts at the park.
Josh Schluter, current president of the FOPP board of directors, said the group continues a mission of “bringing the community together.”
“We’ve seen our attendance numbers go up,” Schluter said. “People who come here from outside the area say they can’t believe what an amazing venue it is.”