A Spokane conservation group that’s worked since 1966 to acquire and protect the 530-acre Dishman Hills Natural Area and related wild lands in Spokane Valley is trying to piece together an even more ambitious mission.
The Dream Trail Project seeks to acquire land or easements along a ridge to create a corridor for humans and wildlife in an natural area that’s ripe for subdivision and development.
The corridor would stretch nearly 6 miles as the crow flies or roughly 12 miles on the ground.
It would run from Appleway Boulevard at the Dishman Hills Natural Area southward to the Rocks of Sharon conservation land – two widely separated wild-area gems secured by the Dishman Hills Natural Area Association (DHNAA).
While it would go through substantial areas of Spokane County Conservation Futures land, the corridor would require easements through long stretches of private property involving numerous landowners.
“The private property factor is why we called it the Dream Trail when we started looking into this several years ago,” said Jeff Lambert. “It’s a dream.
“But we’ve been getting more and more positive response as people start looking at what this project could mean to property values as well as to the community and the wildlife.”
The project has grown larger than the DHNAA can handle.
About 20 groups have formed the Dishman Hills Alliance, and still more help is needed, said Michael Hamilton, who attended a DHNAA meeting out of curiosity 23 years ago – and he’s been the group’s president ever since.
The goal is a corridor secured for wildlife habitat and a non-motorized trail with links to Spokane Valley at the north, Dishman-Mica area to the east, the Palouse Highway to the south and the Glenrose neighborhood to the west.
“The Glenrose Community Association recently donated a portion of the money from our annual Mountain Goat Challenge fun run to the Dream Trail Project,” said David Kral, association president. “Our group supports the effort.”
One of the missions of GCA and its membership of roughly 500 households is maintaining the area’s rural character.
“The Dishman Hills Alliance is striving to keep as much land as possible in a native state, which is why most of us moved to this area in the first place,” Kral said.
He and other neighbors have enjoyed hiking into the proposed Dream Trail corridor area for years, even though they were walking on somebody’s private land.
“That couldn’t go on forever,” he said. “The Dream Trail would assure that we have access to the conservation lands over the hill.”
While volunteers and a few key private donors have been keeping the project rolling, significant funding will be needed to workout easements and key property acquisitions, Hamilton said.
“We have lots of little pieces to work out, including a parking lot to build before we can have access to the south end of the Dream Trail at Big Rock.”
“A lot of people have enjoyed the Dishman Hills. This would be a great time to join the association as members or offer a donation,” Lambert added, noting that the Dishman Hills Natural Area Association has only about 200 members.
The grass roots volunteer group has preserved millions of dollars worth of conservation land by leveraging donations averaging less than $25,000 a year, Lambert said.
Suzy Dix, a Spokane Valley real estate agent for 22 years, has been offering the DHNAA her expertise.
“Those guys asked me to come out and look at what they were trying to do and I was impressed,” said Dix, who’s on The Nature Conservancy’s Washington board of directors.
“They’re trying to make sure development doesn’t block wildlife and they want to give families and schools some sort of access from every direction.”
Dix said some private property owners cringe at the concept of conservation lands and public access.
“But when you bring them out on the ground, they see how this will be a hedge against the encroachment that’s going on,” she said.
“I just sold a property to a family that was attracted by its proximity to the Rocks of Sharon. Open space increases property values.”
Dix is donating her services to help the DHNAA work with appraisers, research easements and private roads, adhere to rules on wetlands and setbacks and write proposals.
“It’s fun to be involved with something that will last forever,” she said.
Aaron Henson, a rock climber who considers Big Rock a jewel to his sport, has been donating his expertise – he’s an engineer for Avista – to help DHNAA design a parking area at the end of Stevens Creek Road if property can be secured.
Two Spokane contractors have offered significant donations of their services.
“The Dream Trail Project has been identified as a priority within our Spokane County Regional Trails Plan,” said Doug Chase, County Parks director. “We can’t be an active member of the group to preserve our objectivity in possible land acquisitions, but we’re supportive of the concept.”
Hamilton and Lambert have devoted countless hours to meeting with groups, agencies and property owners.
“We need more people investing in the Dream Trail like a conservation mutual fund,” Hamilton said. “Buy shares by donating cash or professional services and get big dividends in recreation, access, wildlife and scenery.”