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Community meeting tonight on plan for High Drive Bluff

Volunteers leverage a boulder out of the way during a trail maintenance party on the High Drive Bluff earlier this summer.
Volunteers leverage a boulder out of the way during a trail maintenance party on the High Drive Bluff earlier this summer.

Much has happened in the last few years to make Spokane’s signature slogan: Near Nature; Near Perfect really come to reality. The Centennial Trail is nearly complete. Several groups are working hard to clean up and create public access to the Spokane River. The Big Rocks area on Tower Mountain has been preserved expanding the Dishman Hills Natural Area. We aren’t done though.

Last year, a group of citizens started tackling the High Drive Bluff. The group, the Friends of the High Drive Bluff, began working with the city of Spokane to look for ways to sustain recreation along the bluff. The bluff is a popular place for hiking, dog walking and running with spectacular views of the Latah Valley.

“The bluff’s trails have something for everybody regardless of their age,” said Diana Roberts, facilitator for the Friends of the Bluff.

Many of the more popular trails were showing signs of heavy use and improperly used shortcuts were contributing to erosion in the steep, sandy slope. Noxious weeds were taking hold and litter was an issue. Many small thickets of pine and brush along with dry grass had created a substantial wildfire risk.

“We formed the group to address all these issues,” Roberts said. “With the cooperation of the city Parks Department one of our first projects last year was to start some trail maintenance to reduce erosion.”

Earlier this summer they then held some noxious weed management workshops and began applying some integrated weed management methods to control knapweed and rush skeleton weed. “We began by trying to reduce weeds along trails so the seed wouldn’t move to other places on shoes and in fur,” Roberts said.

This fall they are going to begin looking at how to best implement a fuels reduction plan to reduce the risk of a wildfire. The bluff is steep and a small fire driven by even a light wind could easily race up the hill and into the densely populated South Hill. Think the Valley View fire in 2008. The plan was developed by WSU Extension Forester Erik Sjoquist and approved by other foresters and the Spokane City Parks and Urban Forestry Program.

The plan would create a shaded fuel break along the existing trail network by thinning trees along the trails to reduce canopy density, removing small, stressed trees, those impacted by disease and bugs, or dead trees under 14 inches in diameter that would lower the risk of a crown fire and keep any fires that do start on the ground where they are easier to fight. Dead trees over 14 inches in diameter would be preserved as wildlife habitat.

The group will meet tonight at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church at 6 to begin planning the implementation of a forest health and fire reduction plan.

“The city has approved the plan. Now we need the community’s help implementing it,” Roberts said.

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