Rockford Mayor Micki Harnois is doing her best to bring folks to Southeast Spokane County.
Harnois, who served as part of the Rockford City Council before becoming mayor in January 2010, has been on a public relations mission to spotlight the bucolic terrain surrounding Rockford, Tekoa and other rural towns, scenes that appear lifted directly from a pastoral Andrew Wyeth painting.
The campaign received a boost this April when a stretch of just over 20 miles between Tekoa and the Idaho state line was designated a scenic and recreational highway by the state of Washington. Now Harnois is hoping the next step will involve the route being added to the 208 miles that comprise the Palouse Scenic Byway, a nationally recognized tourist attraction that has been one of the region’s landmarks for close to a decade.
“It’s really a community drive to improve our town,” Harnois said at the Council of Governments meeting in May, a gathering sponsored attended by leaders from jurisdictions throughout Spokane County.
Harnois told COG attendees that while the state announcement represented encouraging news, the ultimate goal is to earn acceptance as part of the Palouse Scenic Byway.
“I feel we’re only halfway there,” she said. “We’re still working on getting the Palouse Scenic Byway designation.”
The Pullman Chamber of Commerce took the lead in establishing the PSB in 2001 in an effort to establish a tourism draw that connected the communities of Whitman County. The roadway was awarded status as a state scenic byway in 2003 and received a national byways grant two years later.
Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard, who invited Harnois to speak on the subject at the COG meeting and has been a supporter of the campaign since it began, said the push for PSB inclusion “is a huge step in the right direction.”
“We need to help these small towns build up their economy and tax base,” Richard said.
Harnois met with PCB representatives on June 22 in Palouse to discuss the potential of adding the proposed section to the byway. The complete route begins at the city limits of Tekoa and runs through Rockford on Highway 27 before transitioning to Highway 278 to the Idaho state line.
“I was encouraged,” said Harnois of the gathering which included a representative of the WSDOT’s Spokane office. “There are still some questions remaining, but one thing that really helped a lot was the fact that the grant we’re applying for is not going to affect their grant (involving new kiosks and signage).”
Harnois said she hopes to reconvene those involved in the discussion on a future Saturday in the Rockford area, having them drive the section along Highway 27 that is included in the bid. Along with support from the local chamber of commerce, a new Rockford Business Association has taken up the cause, adding the PCB priority to an agenda that includes building up Rockford’s historic district.
“It’s a subset of the chamber that is more localized,” Harnois said of the association that held its inaugural meeting in May.
Richard gave Harnois credit for her continued work on the issue and has said Spokane County would provide support and resources in the grant writing process.
“This is a beautiful area with an immense amount of culture, an area comprised of vital agribusiness communities,” Richard said. “I think the region needs to be aware of that.”