After years of negotiations, Spokane’s conservation community rejoiced in 2009 when the Dishman Hills Natural Area Association acquired 80 acres known as the Rocks of Sharon from private investors.
The ruggedly scenic parcel formed a strategic link to Spokane County conservation lands. The purchase included Big Rock, the area’s visual icon – a vertical paradise of granite and quartzite that trespassing climbers have been enjoying since the 1950s.
But while the parcel was served by a Spokane County road easement, it has lacked one essential element: parking.
Climbers and other visitors, knowing they had public access to Big Rock from the upper reaches of Stevens Creek Road have been getting tickets from Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies.
Since there’s no room on the sides of the road to pull off, they’ve been parking illegally along the easement.
The DHNAA has been trying to negotiate a deal with adjacent private landowners to purchase enough land for parking.
“We think we’re getting close, but developing a parking lot is expensive, more than $150,000,” said Jeff Lambert, DHNAA member. “Until we get this worked out, we’re asking people to access Big Rock from the longer but beautiful trail coming from Holman Road and the Iller Creek Conservation Area.”
Chad Luhr, a homeowner whose driveway leads off the Stevens Creek Road near Big Rock, said he was forced to take a stand against illegal parking.
He’s posted signs and dug a ditch blocking the easement. He and other neighbors have called the sheriff when necessary to maintain their access and room for the school bus to turn around.
“I don’t think people appreciate the impact they have when 20 cars are parked in this narrow spot,” he said.
The problem is not new. “A lot of people have been coming for years and recreating on somebody else’s land,” Luhr said.
“Now that the association has purchased Big Rock, even more people think they have a right to park anywhere they want.”
Lambert said the tank-trap ditch Luhr dug with a back hoe across the upper reach of the Stevens Creek Road easement might be illegal.
“But it’s working to everyone’s benefit right now because it’s preventing people from going up a few hundred yards and parking illegally on other private land, “ he said. “And it keeps out the illegal motorized use.”
Meantime, Luhr said he gets a lot more flak than understanding from hikers and climbers seeking the short route into Big Rock.
“But the (DHNAA) is getting the word out,” he said. “The problems have dropped off. A parking lot will help.”