He showed up at the trailhead with the usual things you’d bring for a hike: a small daypack, snacks, water.
But the tree-pruning shears set him apart.
Instantly I knew this member of the Newman Lake Property Owners Association was a candidate for my series of reports on Local Trail Angels.
He wanted to show me the recently completed trail connections he and a group of volunteers had built over the course of months at the McKenzie Conservation Area.
He didn’t want me to mention his name. He didn’t want credit.
“The trails are for everyone,” he said. “But we enjoy them regularly for exercise when we’re at the lake.”
He brought his wife; I brought mine, and we went for a pleasant walk through the 421 acres the Spokane County Conservation Futures Program had purchased in 2005.
I’d toured the area sloping up from the shores of Newman Lake after the acquisition seven years ago. A few logging roads had been built through the parcel, but county officials said they had no plans to develop the property other than providing a parking lot and trailhead off West Newman Lake Road.
The Trail Angel saw the recreation potential for a trail system that linked the logging roads with single-track connectors that formed loops.
He and a few other property owners didn’t just go in unauthorized and have their way with the public land.
“We met with the people at Spokane County Parks,” he said. “They listened to us, but they were skeptical at first. I didn’t blame them.”
The Trail Angels outlined some plans on a map, scouted the terrain, flagged potential routes and invited County Parks officials to check them out.
“They came out and walked the routes with us, made some changes and gave us their blessing,” he said.
“What we’re doing is very minimal. We actually need people and horses on these trails to keep them in shape.
“Animals like deer and moose are liking the trails and keeping them up.”
I used GPS to map the trails and noted we hiked 4.9 miles to hike them all, doubling up on some segments.
We could have hiked the routes in 90 minutes, but it took considerably longer.
Remember, the host was carrying pruners. He never put them in his pack.
A Trail Angel’s work is never done.
The trails provide a distant view of a bald eagle nest that’s been active for years. As if on cue, one of the eagles was perched in a tree above the trail that goes down the ridge through the spine of the conservation area.
“I’ve always thought this was my favorite of the trails, with its views out over the lake,” the Trail Angel said. “The eagle confirms it.”
The McKenzie Conservation Area is one of the jewels in the Conservation Futures Program, which seeks to assure there will always be reasonably natural areas and open spaces for people and wildlife within easy reach of county residents.
The 421 acres at the northeast corner of Newman Lake include 3,000 feet of shoreline and acres of wetlands. It’s a magnet for wildlife.
The land is open to the public. Prohibited activities include hunting, rock hounding, plant collecting, driving motorized vehicles and building campfires. Dogs must be kept on a leash.
The property includes two well-known lakeside landmarks, one natural and one man-made.
Turtle Rock rises on the northwest shore for one of the best lakeside viewpoints and picnic spots next to a photogenic old Douglas fir. Canoeists and kayakers can paddle from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife public boat launch across the lake to the old private launch and grassy shore at Turtle Rock.
Nearby is an old boathouse used to store supplies for a lakeshore native plant nursery tended by volunteers.
Since the program was authorized in 1993, the voter-approved Conservation Futures tax on property values has allowed the county to acquire parcels at about 30 areas totaling 6,300 acres.
The McKenzie Conservation Area was purchased for $1.5 million with $83,500 donated by the family back to the county for an endowment that helps maintain the area.
A few local property owners also chip in.
“It’s contagious,” the Trail Angel said, noting that a group of Hobnailers – a local hiking club – came by as the property owners were working on the trails this spring.
“Eight Hobnailers joined us for the next work party,” he said. “Everybody appreciates a good trail.”
Directions: From Liberty Lake, go north 2.4 miles on Harvard Road. Turn east on Trent Avenue (SR 290) and go 2.2 miles to a four-way intersection (Moab Junction) and turn north on Starr Road. Drive 3 miles and turn right at the Y onto Hauser Lake Road for less than 0.5 mile. Turn left on Muzzy Road. Drive 4.5 miles (Muzzy Road becomes West Newman Lake Road) to the trailhead down to the left.
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