Tuesday marked the end of six months of work for 29 Washtucna School District students when Gov. Jay Inslee declared Palouse Falls Washington's official state waterfall.
"They put so much of their heart and soul into it, and actually getting to a moment where they can see it put into a law is just great," said Amy Whipple, third- and fourth-grade teacher at Washtucna.
The lobbying by the Washtucna kids gave Palouse Falls the edge over the state's other waterfalls, Inslee said.
"They made a decision and they convinced the Legislature, and they were passionate and persistent and articulate and eloquent -- all the things we want in our students," Inslee told the Herald after the ceremony.
"What happened here is a testament to these kids," he said. "It's also a testament to good teaching, because we had these teachers challenge these kids to think outside the box and be innovative. That's what we're wanting from our teachers and we're getting it across the state."
Inslee popped out of the back seat of a maroon sport utility vehicle as he arrived at Palouse Falls State Park. He briefly read an interpretive sign telling of the Ice Age floods that created the falls and surrounding canyon, then bolted down a hill to an overlook to see the northeast Franklin County site for himself.
Like many of the 100,000 or so annual visitors to the falls, the governor pulled out a cellphone camera to create a memento of his visit. He was then joined for the ceremony by all 65 students from the nearby school.
The process started last fall with a visit to the school by Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, who agreed to sponsor the bill honoring the waterfall.
One student, Cooper Jessop, 8, received a special honor Tuesday. Inslee named him "Washingtonian of the Day" for organizing a group of students to represent the school in Olympia.
Cooper enjoyed meeting the governor, he said. He also got the chance to spot a yellow-bellied marmot.
"It was really exciting for me, one of the biggest things to happen," Cooper said of the day.
Washtucna natives Eleanor Brodahl of Othello and Karen Kinch of Cheney came back for the event.
"This is absolutely special for our children in Washtucna," Brodahl said. "It will be fantastic for them to know the process of government."
The occasion brought back memories for the women of exploring the falls in their childhood.
"It's a winding road of sagebrush, and you're like, 'What falls?'" Kinch said of the drive into the park. "Then, all of a sudden, there it is."
The designation as state waterfall will, hopefully, mean more tourists for the area, Inslee said. He told the audience that Tuesday was among his finest days as governor after eating goat cheese at the Little Dipper Dairy in Dayton and the best cheeseburger he's ever had at Rawhide restaurant in Starbuck.
He joked that Palouse Falls might someday replace Niagara Falls as a top honeymoon destination.
"I really have a warm spot in my heart for this Coulee country; it's so dramatic," Inslee said. "It speaks to really powerful forces that created this country, and it's pretty exciting for me."
Nearby Lyons Ferry State Park is scheduled to reopen in 2015. State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said the state got money to reopen the park, which it pulled funding for in 2002, by closing the Pasco Fish Lake Trail.
The two parks can share staff and draw visitors for each other, Schoesler said.
"It will be great for the region," he said. "I think we'll sell more Discover Passes in one weekend at Lyons Ferry than we did in a year at the trail."
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom