It’s likely you don’t know Paul Knowles.
But you almost certainly know his work.
Over the past decade, the 38-year-old Spokane transplant has been a key force behind the region’s growing trail and green space portfolio, in the process reshaping regional recreation for decades to come.
As Spokane County’s park planner, his work is often dry and behind the scenes. While others swing Pulaskis (although he’s been known to pick one up on occasion), Knowles submits impeccable grant applications, coordinates volunteer efforts and generally takes in the big picture.
If you’ve ever appreciated a well-marked trail in Spokane County, stared longingly at Mica Peak’s snow-covered slopes while driving on I-90 or taken a quick lap up and down one of Beacon Hill’s numerous mountain bike trails after work, you owe Knowles a beer.
Particularly this year.
That’s because three Spokane County projects are ranked first in a highly competitive state grant program.
“That’s like hitting three home runs in a row,” said Jeff Lambert, the executive director of the Dishman Hills Conservancy and a veteran grant-writer. “If it was in the sports world, it would be on the front page of the newspaper.”
Unlike the sports world, these wins are making tangible and long-lasting differences to the quality of life in our region.
“We’re lucky to have someone so competent working behind the scenes for the public good,” said Rich Landers, the outdoors editor at the Spokesman-Review for 40 years and a trail guidebook author. “He’s the right man at the right time for Spokane County Conservation Futures.”
In May, Knowles submitted two grant requests totaling $1.5 million that allowed the county and city to purchase several parcels of private land on Beacon Hill, thus preserving public access to a popular mountain biking area minutes from downtown Spokane. The sale was announced in August and made possible by the fact that both grant requests are No. 1 in the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
Every two years, the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office evaluates potential projects and ranks them. The nonprofit then submits a funding request to the Legislature. The Legislature allocates money to the program. Projects receive funding based on their ranking.
“Beacon Hill, that thing is on track,” Lambert said. “It makes me weep with happiness. He’s the most valued conservationist.”
Another Knowles grant, this one for Antoine Peak’s Etter Ranch project, also received top billing in the grant cycle.
“Our grant programs are very, very competitive and for a county to be that high on the various lists they applied for is incredible,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, which administers the grants. “It really talks about how much work they put in to showcase the project.”
Knowles also oversaw the completion of the Phillips Creek Trailhead, the “jumping-off point” for the new, 2.25-mile “Flying L Trail.” In recent years, he’s also pioneered the use of trailhead webcams, which allow users to check how busy a trailhead is before driving there. It’s a