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Mountain access discussed

Rathdrum City Council is considering offering public access to city-owned property on Rathdrum Mountain. 
 (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Rathdrum City Council is considering offering public access to city-owned property on Rathdrum Mountain. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

RATHDRUM – Rathdrum’s mountainous backdrop may eventually open to the public.

For the first time, the Rathdrum City Council on Tuesday agreed to explore access to the city’s 557 acres on Rathdrum Mountain – for both city and public use.

“We have 557 acres that in 15 years or 10 years, or if you decide to do it sooner, we need to get public access,” City Administrator Brett Boyer told the council.

At a minimum, the city needs to solidify its own access to the property on the eastern side of the mountain, which overshadows the growing town, Boyer said. The city doesn’t have a legal easement for its land, which serves as a conservation area and view corridor that is periodically harvested for timber, he said.

“We’ve established we don’t have the access we need, even for the city,” Boyer said.

The move encouraged members of Friends of Rathdrum Mountain, a nonprofit group that advocates for conservation and public use of the land.

“I think it’s exciting that the city is finally moving forward,” Jim Ochenkoski, secretary of the Friends of Rathdrum Mountain group, said Tuesday.

The discussion about access was prompted by a request from a local Boy Scout troop, which wrote a letter to the city in December asking for admittance to the property for camping, hiking and future service projects.

At the council’s request, city staff prepared a report – presented Tuesday – on the city’s access and the possibility of public use. The report found that “work needs to be done to provide good, clear legal access.”

The city accesses the property from Reservoir Road up Barrett Drive, but has never officially been granted an easement from two property owners along Barrett, Boyer told the council.

The city must ensure its access on Barrett Drive, and explore other entry points, such as off Reservoir Road, that could be used for future public access, Boyer said.

Barrett Drive, a narrow lane flanked by a stream, isn’t friendly to vehicular traffic, so the city could develop an area for parking near the city’s water tank or develop a new road off Reservoir Road, according to the city report.

“Somehow we need to get at least access for administration and maintenance and try to get public access also,” Mayor Brian Steele said Tuesday. “We have to get it A.S.A.P.”

Property owners in the area use their access to bring friends onto city property on Rathdrum Mountain, said City Councilman Ken Hayes.

The land has served as a “private hunting refuge,” he said.

The Friends of Rathdrum Mountain group has for years advocated for the city’s discussion of public access, Ochenkoski said.

“This is very good,” he said. The property offers a recreation area close to town, he said.

“Within 10 minutes, you’re in the middle of nowhere,” Ochenkoski said.