It was hot and dusty work.
With handful of malicious mosquitoes thrown in for good measure. And it was a Sunday, a day on which most – regardless of spiritual bent – would rather be relaxing in the shade.
If the 20 or so volunteers battling thick brush and rocky earth were thinking about other, gentler, ways they could have spent their day of rest, they weren’t letting on.
“I’m a big hiker and mountain biker so I use the trails all the time,” said Mark Westfall. “It’s great to give back.
He added, “Nature provides its own spiritual reward.”
Westfall worked alongside his wife Bree Warner, the Spokane REI store manager. In fact, most of the volunteers present at the Washington Trail Association work party were REI employees partaking in an annual service event.
Altruistic motivations aside, the volunteers were treated to spectacular views of the Spokane Valley, the Palouse and Saltese Uplands.
That’s because they were starting trail development on Mica Peak. The peak, which tops out at 5,209 feet, gives recreationists and volunteers alike a unique vantage point on the Spokane area. The true summit of the mountain is owned by the Federal Aviation Administration and is not open to the public. However, where the volunteers worked was nearly as good, just a few hundred feet shorter than the true summit.
Sunday’s trail work was the beginning of a long-planned series of trails that will only make that view more accessible to Spokane-area hikers, bikers and horseback riders.
“I can’t think of another place in town where you can have that kind of a view shed,” said Holly Weiler, the Washington Trails Association’s Eastern Washington coordinator.
The trails have been a long time coming.
Spokane County purchased the 911 acres in 2013 for $1.7 million. Shortly after the purchase a trail plan was developed. Work on those trails started Sunday. When it’s all said and done the area will boast roughly 14 miles of trail, said Paul Knowles, Spokane County park planner.
Roughly 40 percent of those 14 miles will be newly constructed single-track trail. The other 60 percent of the trail system will be comprised of old logging roads, he said.
The trails will be open to hikers, mountain bikers and horses. They will be closed to motorized vehicles.
The trail plan calls for a downhill mountain bike trail. The mountain bike club Evergreen East will develop that section of trail.
The trail that WTA volunteers worked on Sunday will connect some of the logging roads to the false summit. Overall, WTA has committed 2,000 volunteer hours to the project. Trail development will cost $180,000. That figure includes the value of volunteer labor, Knowles said.
As exciting as that is, it’s really only the tip of the spear, Knowles said. The county is in the process of buying an additional 901 acres of land from the Inland Empire Paper Co.
That block of land, which lies to the east of the current Mica Peak property, will connect the 3,591-acre Liberty Lake regional park with the Mica Peak Conservation area. Combined with nearby Department of Natural Resources Land, the whole block of land will total more than 5,000 acres, making it the fourth largest block of public land in Spokane County, Knowles said.
Knowles said the sale will likely close Dec. 15.
“It’s a big deal for this community. I don’t know that people quite realize that yet,” Knowles said.
The county is purchasing the 911 acres from IEP for $2.3 million. Roughly half of that funding is coming out of the Conservation Futures program. The county is also applying for a state Recreation and Conservation grant that would fund the other half of the purchase.
The trails constructed on Sunday were designed with expansion in mind. Once the purchase is finalized planners hope to connect the Liberty Lake Regional Park to the Mica Peak Conservation Area via thru-trails.
Additionally Knowles said the county is in the process of drafting a memorandum of understanding with DNR allowing the construction and maintenance of trails on the DNR land.
That will make it possible for hikers or bikers to start in Liberty Lake and travel all the way to the Mica Peak trailhead at Belmont road, or vice versa.
“Oh it’s awesome. I mean, the views up there are incredible,” Knowles said.
Additionally, the trail system will provide winter sport enthusiasts an option other than Mount Spokane.
“Mica Peak is kind of a weather maker because of its isolated elevation,” Knowles said. “It does get a fair amount of snow in the winter, and it holds it for longer than a lot of other areas adjacent to it.”
Once the trails are complete, the Spokane Nordic Association has plans to install wintertime trail markers for cross country skiers.
On Sunday, those grand plans and aspirations were still on the back burner. Instead the volunteers focused on the task at hand, carving a trail out of the nothing.
“It’s just a good excuse to get outside and get fresh air,” said Scott Hicks.
Correction: Due to a reporter’s error the amount of land being purchased from the Inland Empire Paper Co. was incorrectly reported. The story has been updated. Additionally, a memorandum of understanding between Spokane County and the Department of Natural Resources is in the process of being finalized.
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