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Group works to maintain High Drive Bluff environment

John Schram, a volunteer with the Friends of the High Drive Bluff, helps haul a fresh-cut pine tree up the bluff on June 14. The South Hill bluff has become a popular hiking spot. (Colin Mulvany)
John Schram, a volunteer with the Friends of the High Drive Bluff, helps haul a fresh-cut pine tree up the bluff on June 14. The South Hill bluff has become a popular hiking spot. (Colin Mulvany)

Being part mountain goat is a great advantage when volunteering for Friends of the High Drive Bluff, but it’s not a requirement.

Over the past couple of years, the group has gotten increasingly involved in maintaining the steep bluffs that dip off High Drive on the South Hill. The area is crisscrossed by trails and is a destination for dog walkers, runners and bikers – and the view, especially during sunset hours, is stunning.

Last Thursday, the friends group called another work party to prune and thin brush and trees to reduce fire danger.

“We are never quite sure how many people will show up,” said Kent Moline, one of the volunteers. “We just put the word out there.” The Friends of the High Drive Bluff is coordinated by Diana Roberts, a WSU regional extension specialist, and the WSU extension office has provided advice and hands-on training for the group.

Together with John Schram and Sharon Carroll, Moline spent a couple of warm early evening hours dragging young newly cut trees up the bluff to High Drive, where the city would stop by with a chipper the next morning.

And they weren’t using the trails. That’s where the mountain goat part comes in.

“It can be a little difficult getting up and down here,” said Carroll, smiling, as she bounded down the steep side with a handsaw, ready to take out a small tree.

“It’s a matter of practice,” said Schram, as he followed Carroll down the grassy bluff. “Do it a few times and you quickly learn what’s good footing and what’s not.”

The group focuses on four things: maintaining the trail system, fire abatement, weed management and litter removal. The bluff is partly owned by the city of Spokane.

Last fall, the group worked on a one-acre site just below Manito Boulevard and High Drive, supervised by a forestry expert from WSU’s extension office.

“There’s a lot to take into consideration when you look at those trees,” Schram said. “They talk about the art and the science of reducing the fire hazard: What do you cut and then what do you do with it? Do you leave it or haul it out?”

About half a dozen group members took a pruning class with the city’s forestry department this spring. And they can’t cut anything that’s more than 4 inches in diameter. Other considerations are bark beetles and gall rust, which may infest a weak tree or one that’s been pruned at the wrong time of the year.

Carroll said she’s an amateur botanist and she first got involved with the group because she enjoys walking there and watching the plants.

It was an effort to kill noxious weeds that initially got the group together.

“First we went in there with Roundup, but then we became aware there are other solutions,” said Moline, including pulling the weeds and maintaining a healthy biotope on the bluff.

Schram said it’s been interesting to find out how many stakeholders there are in the bluff.

“There are hikers and runners and dog walkers and we have to take everyone into consideration,” he said.

Earlier this year, the group conducted a major cleanup of the area, hauling out trash, old tires and junk.

“People had dumped so much trash here,” Moline said. “It was unbelievable how much we collected.”

The small-scale logging and clearing work will continue all summer, as the group works its way across the bluff.

The best way to keep up with the group is to join its Facebook page, where meeting and work party announcements are made.

“We are always looking for volunteers – they can just come to our work parties,” Moline said.