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Spokane County Parks has plan for Antoine Peak

PUBLIC LANDS — Spokane County Parks Department has created an access and management plan for the 1,066-acre Antoine Peak Conservation Area in Spokane Valley. The plan will be presented in an open house meeting tonight, May 28, 4 p.m.-6 p.m., at Mountain Gear Headquarters, 6012 E. Mansfield. 

Antoine Peak was purchased in three phases, 2007 - 2012, with half of the funding coming from the county Conservation Futures Program and half from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (Urban Wildlife Habitat Category).

So far, a small trailhead has been developed on the east side of the property off of Lincoln Road. Other access points are undeveloped.

Although unauthorized motor vehicles are not allowed on Antoine Peak, about 20 miles of road, trail, and ATV tracks have been built or formed over several decades before the land was secured by the county. This network has created erosion and encouraged illegal motorized access and disturbance to wildlife, said Paul Knowles, county parks planner. 

The proposed access and trail plan strives to balance recreation and wildlife needs as much as possible, Knowles said, noting that it calls for:

  • Creation or preserving several loop trails
  • Creating larger areas of undisturbed habitat
  • Developing adequate off-street parking on the west side of the park
  • Preserving several routes necessary to maintain access for stewardship and emergency response
  • Cosuring roads and trails that are little used by the public, fragment habitat unnecessarily, are steep and facilitate erosion, and/or serve little to no maintenance function.

Next Steps: After receiving public input and finalized, Knowles says Spokane County Parks will pursue grant funding to implement the trail plan. Once finished, Antoine Peak will become a destination for hiking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, and many other passive recreation uses.


Documents:

Landers hiking program featured at county libraries

TRAILS — I'll be at Spokane County Libraries tonight and Thursday night to present free programs on “Hiking, the Perfect Sport” based on my latest trail guidebook, “Day Hiking Eastern Washington.” 

I'll be sharing tips from the trails and, while I'll cover some great places to go hiking, I'll also explain why I can't easily answer the question “What's your favorite hike?” 

The programs start at 7 p.m. as follows:

Spokane conservationist Robbi Castleberry, dead at 80

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UPDATED WITH VIDEO 5:45 p.m. on June 11, 2013

CONSERVATION — Robbi Castleberry, a pillar of Spokane-area conservation efforts since the 1970s, died today of an apparent cardiac arrest in her home near Indian Canyon, her husband, Vic, has confirmed.

Castleberry, 80, was on the original city-county committee that spearheaded development of the Spokane River Centennial Trail.

Her many conservation leadership roles include her current committee services for the Spokane County Conservation Futures Program. She's been the energizer behind the improvements and additions to the city's Palisades Park and the closure of Rimrock Drive so it could be enjoyed by walkers and bicyclists.

“Robbi was involved with groups like the Backcountry Horsemen and the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club, and when it came to issues such as trails and river access she could be counted on as an absolute driving force to keep them open for all users,” said Julia McHugh, another original member of the Centennial Trail committee. 

Memorial service arrangements are pending.

Spokane County seeks Antoine Peak access addition

PUBLIC LANDS — A proposal to purchase a 9.5-acre addition to an access site for the 1,066-acre Antoine Peak Conservation Area is on the agenda for today's Spokane County Commission meeting.

Antoine Peak is the mountain north of East Valley High School and east of Forker Road in Spokane Valley.

The Spokane County Parks, Recreation, and Golf Department will ask permission to spend $300,000 in county Conservation Futures funds to purchase the site owned by the Johnson Family Trust. The family has been allowing the public to use some of the property since the county secured the land in three phases concluding in 2011.

Public use is growing in the area, which is part of the voter-approved conservation program to protect wildlife habitat and open spaces for passive public recreation.

The property the family is offering to the county — before listing it for sale to the public — includes the existing public parking area on the east side of the mountain along with a 2,800 square foot residence with detached garage.  The site is critical to the county because it's the only place available near the trailhead for public parking.

The residence could be used as a park ranger or maintenance worker residence. Acquiring the subject property would also allow Spokane County Parks to expand the existing lot as needed to handle increasing use.

Another parking site is being researched on the west side of the peak.

Conservation Futures could add two choice spots

PUBLIC LANDS — The Spokane County Conservation Futures Program is asking county commissioners to preserve 920 acres on the west flank of Mica Peak and15 acres at a geological site between Badger and Williams lakes south of Cheney.

If approved, the acquisitions would bring Conservation Futures Program holdings to more than 7,000 acres through 29 acquisitions.

To date through the program, Spokane County Parks and Recreation manages 14 properties and the City of Spokane Parks Department manages an additional 11 properties within city limits.

Editorial points to success of Wildlife & Recreation Program

CONSERVATION — If you use parks, trails or public open spaces in Spokane County, you have been a beneficiary of the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program. (Click on this link and check out the more than impressive projects list under “campaigns.”)

It's a state program worth funding, as today's S-R editorial points out.

New access to Big Rock-Rocks of Sharon opens Friday

COUNTY PARKS — The long-awaited trailhead parking area on the south side of the Big Rock-Rocks of Sharon area in Spokane Valley will be open to public access Friday at 3 p.m., said Paul Knowles, Spokane County Parks planner.

Heavy equipment is still working at the site accessible from the Palouse Highway near the end of Stevens Creek Road.  County Parks will be hydro-seeding, putting up signs and doing other touch-up worth at the parking area through fall, Knowles said.

The Big Rock area, adjacent to the Iller Creek Conservation Area,  is prized by rock climbers and hikers. It's been secured by the county through a series of deals and purchases with help from the Dishman Hills Conservancy.

The new parking area is designed to handle school buses. It will accommodate about 30 passenger vehicles if parked in an organized fashion.

Notable restrictions include:

  • No motorized vehicles allowed on trails beyond the parking area.
  • Dogs must be on leash.
  • Equestrian use of the Rocks of Sharon-Iller Creek Conservation Area is discouraged because newer trails built by volunteers have not had time to compat and poor visibility along trail corridors makesconflicts between different users more likely, Knowles said.

See a map of hiking trails accessible from Stevens Creek or from the north side Holman Road access to Iller  Creek.

Big Rock parking construction delayed by weather

TRAILS – Recent wet weather has delayed construction of a parking area to the Big Rock Conservation Area off Stevens Creek Road.

Spokane County Parks and Recreation Paul Knowles said the ground is so soggy, work probably won’t start until around July 2.

Visitors planning to hike into the Big Rock-Rocks of Sharon area near Tower Mountain are advised to use the Iller Creek Conservation Area trailhead.

Spokane County dog-leash laws to be enforced at conservation areas

TRAILS — Spokane County officials announced today they will begin addressing the issue of unleashed dogs — a long-simmering aggravation that's been been stoked in recent years by the purchase of county conservation lands, which many pet owners wrongly assume to be dog parks

An emphasis patrol to enforce dog leash laws on 12,000 acres of Spokane County park and conservation lands is being launched later this week. The effort is fueled by a $140,000 grant.

Patrols are scheduled for six weeks. The funding also provides for additional patrols by off-duty County Sheriffs officers to deal with issues such as off-leash dogs, shooting and off-road vehicles through June 30, 2013, said Paul Knowles, Spokane Count Parks planner.

The project will start this weekend at Antoine Peak Conservation Area just north of East Valley High School.

Spokane County Park Ranger Bryant Robinson said dogs running off leash is the top complaint from the public, ahead of the No. 2 complaint of off-road vehicles going onto park land.

The breaking point may have come recently when Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard endured the abuse that's been fetching more and more complaints throughout the county.

During a commission briefing today, Richard said his dogs were attacked by three off-leash dogs and when he confronted the owner of the off-leash dogs, he was threatened himself.

“Some people don't take kindly to telling them how to manage their pets,” noted Nicole Montano, animal protection manager for SCRAPS.

S-R reporter Mike Prager was at the briefing and filed this detailed report on the enforcement effort.

Other emphasis patrols currently scheduled include:

During the leash emphasis, authorities will be issuing citations for other violations, including not having a license, which carries a $200 fine, or going onto park land with a motorized vehicle.

Violations of letting a dog run at large, failure to have a current rabies vaccination or having a threatening dog all carry $87 fines.

The $140,000 in funding is coming from a Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office NOVA Education and Enforcement grant.

County buys 269 acres for Glenrose conservation area

CONSERVATION — The Dream Trail through the Dishman Hills of Spokane Valley has come 269 acres closer to reality this week with the purchase of two parcels in the Glenrose area.

Two adjoining parcels were purchased with $473,500 from the Spokane County Conservation Futures Program plus $257,500 donated by the Dishman Hills Natural Area Association, said John Bottelli, County Parks assistant director.

“DHNAA exceeded their original pledge by ultimately covering more than the county's share of the Stone Estate acreage by $35,000,” Bottelli said. “Their $257,500 represents 54 percent of the purchase price and is an incredible accomplishment for any non-profit!”

The Dishman Hills group scraped up the money and secured the property before other interests could lock it up privately.

Click here for the details on this great acquisition for future generations and how it fits into the big picture for maintaining wildlife movements and public access to wildlands in our ever-more-populated region.

Update: What’s this truck doing on Antoine Peak?

CONSERVATION FUTURES — Getting a ticket.

That's the answer the hiker wanted to hear after he snapped this photo of an vehicle that had been illegally driven into the Spokane County Conservation Futures land that rises up behind East Valley High School.

The ruts these clowns created will remain as a reminder of their selfishness. They went beyond the locked gates and got stuck on roads that are closed to unauthorized vehicles to protect the area and its wildlife.

But there's some consolation, the hiker reports. They had to pick up the beer cans they littered in the area and the county issued the driver dude a $134 citation.

Hats off to the hiker who took the time to take the photo and make the case so the county could bring some justice to the vandals.

What’s this truck doing on Antoine Peak?

COUNTY PARKS — A hiker sent in this photo of a pickup stuck on Antoine Peak, the Conservation Futures area above East Valley High School.

The mountain is managed by Spokane County Parks. No unauthorized motorized vehicle access is allowed.

My question to the hiker:

I wonder if this is another example of the sad way maintenenace workers leave ruts in the access road as they maintain the radio towers on top of the peak, or whether it's another case of vandals disregarding the “No Motor Vehicles” signs and locked gates.

His answer:

Not unless Busch Light cans tossed about are part of “maintenance.” Already sent the ranger an email with this shot & a couple others.

Today’s highlights

Trail developer Mark Pinch stops to enjoy the view from the top of the 552-acre Saltese Uplands, an area of Liberty Lake that was recently purchased through Spokane County’s Conservation Futures program. SR photo/J. Bart Rayniak

One of the highlights in today's Valley Voice is a story by correspondent Jill Barville on the new Saltese Uplands natural area. Spokane County is working to buy the 552 acre property south of Liberty Lake off Henry Road as part of the Conservation Futures program. A trailhead will be built on Henry Road next year and hikers and bikers will be able to enjoy a network of seven miles of trails.

Reporter Lisa Leinberger has a report on enrollment in the Central Valley, West Valley, East Valley and Freeman school districts. Most of them have larger numbers of students, but enrollment at East Valley's Continuous Curriculum School took a huge jump. This week the Spokane Valley City Council debated the need for a facility to precess water and debris removed from the city's numerous drywells. A decision on whether to apply for a grant for the project will likely be made at the Nov. 15 council meeting.

Reporter Pia Hallenberg has a touching story on Libby McGrory, who has battled breast cancer four times. She recently participated in a 200-mile fundraising bike ride called the “Tour de Pink” in California.

Four-wheelers leave their mark on Antoine Peak

PUBLIC LANDS – They’re vandals on wheels, stealing the common from the wildlife and the public.

Off-road vehicle drivers have the capacity to do serious long-term and even permanent damage in minutes with the thoughtless use of their machines.

The land carnage by four-wheel drive and ATV enthusiasts is not uncommon on public lands.

I was reminded of this last night while hiking around Antoine Peak, the mountain that forms the backdrop for East Valley High School. More than 1,100 acres of the mountain have been secured over the last few years through the Spokane County Conservation Futures Program.

It’s a spectacular wildlife refuge. I saw turkey vultures, hawks and ravens soaring over Antoine’s 3,373-foot summit and wild turkeys and quail on the ground – all within minutes. I saw deer, elk and moose tracks while looking over the Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake.

But I also saw the rampant recent damage by off-road vehicles, which are prohibited in the Antoine Conservation area. These are probably the same people who disregarded the no trespassing signs on the land when it was still privately owned.

Buying one of these vehicles does not come with a license to destroy public land and wildlife habitat. The law should require visible license plates so the public has a way of reporting the vandals when we spot them in action.

There destructiveness is undefendable. It's selfishness on wheels.

Hikers make the most of the longest day of the year

HIKING — Several groups of hikers celebrated the summer solstice by trekking to the top of Antoine Peak after work and hiking down into the sunset.

Antoine is a Spokane County Conservation Futures acquisition that forms the green mountain backdrop north of East Valley High School.

An 8.5-mile round trip from the new Lincoln Road parking lot-trailhead put us on the top of the peak for great views of Mount Spokane to the north and the Spokane Valley and Mica Peak to the south.

Time to join the group for the Dishman Hills

CONSERVATION — Thousands of people have enjoyed the Dishman Hills Natural Area and other conservation lands in this Spokane Valley paradise, but the association that's worked to protect and preserve the area has only about 200 members. 

Sounds like area residents are letting others do the heavy lifting.

With the Dream Trail Project, mapped above, and the need to build a parking area for public access to the more recent Rocks of Sharon acquisition, this is a good time to show  your support.

Join the Dishman Hills Natural Area Association.  And then consider an extra donation.

Questions: Contact DHNAA president Michael Hamilton (509) 747-8147.

Antoine Peak land deal back in running for state funding

PUBLIC LANDS — A prized Spokane Valley wild area north of I-90 and near Forker Road is back in the running for state funding assistance in the last of three purchase phases started under the Spokane County Conservation Futures program.

The House of Representatives announced Tuesday at its hearing for the state capital construction budget that the Spokane County area is pegged to receive over $2.1 million in funding for Antione Peak and Betz Park Baseball/Softball Fields.  

The projects are a part of a proposed $50 million appropriation to the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), which funds high priority wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation projects across the state.

Spokane County Parks would use the $1.63 million Antione Peakgrant to protect elk and mule deer habitat and create hiking and mountain biking trails immediately outside the city.  

Cheney Parks will use the $500,000 Betz Park Baseball/Softball Fieldsgrant to create two ball fields for the community to use.

Projects funded by the WWRP — a highly respected grant program with bipartisan support that had been slated for near elimination in Gov. Gregoire's proposed budget — are determined using scientifically based, objective criteria.  However, these grants could be put at risk if the Senate cuts funding for the program or alters the selection criteria for which projects receive funding.

“We are thrilled to see that the House of Representatives understands the critical role that preservation projects like [this one] play in local communities across the state,” said Joanna Grist, WWRP executive director.

Knight’s Lake Conservation Futures bid overstated

PUBLIC LANDS — The Knight's Lake property along Lake Spokane — owned by Washington DNR and at the top of the list for proposed Spokane County Conservation Futures acquisitions — is a misnomer.
 
The property proposed for sale doesn't include Knight's Lake.
 
SR county government reporter John Craig received a call from the owner of property surrounding the lake informing him that the lake and the property is not for sale.
 
The DNR is adjacent to that property. A good piece of land, no doubt, but perhaps overenthusiastically named by the sellers… DNR.
 
Good marketing.
 
The property owner has asked the paper to refer to the property by another name to avoid misunderstanding that encourages the public to trek from the DNR land to thelake.
 
Not sure whether the photos the DNR used in its bid to get Spokane County to buy the land…the photo showing the lake — was wishful thinking, or just good marketing.

Big Rock access priority for Dishman Hills Association

CONSERVATION – Developing a parking area for the south-side access to the Big Rock conservation area near Tower Mountain is a top 2011 priority for The Dishman Hills Natural Area Association, which recently filled all 14 slots on its board.

After three years of negotiations, the non-profit group acquired the 80-acre parcel in Spokane Valley in 2009.

Since 1994, the association has acquired about 500 acres in the Tower Mountain- Big Rock area, said Michael  Hamilton, association president.

The Big Rock-Rocks of Sharon area adjoins Spokane County’s 875-acre Iller Creek Conservation Futures Area, which extends uphill from the Ponderosa neighborhood west of Dishman-Mica Road.

The 2009 deal created about 1,300 acres of Dishman Hills association and county land dedicated to natural-area protection and public, nonmotorized recreation, Hamilton said.

To continue these endeavors, the group needs to continue to cultivate new supporters and donors.

For information on membership and tax-deductible donations, contact Michael Hamilton, 747-8147.

The DHNA’s current slate of trustees includes David Cole, Paul Flanary, Karen Jurasin, Chris Kopczynski, Beatrice Lackaff, David Lill, Bob Ordner, Mary Weathers, Peter Wolbach, Andrew Ashmore, Michael Hamilton, Jeff Lambert, Kris Wolbach and Suzy Dix..

Dishman Hills activities

The group’s traditional Buttercup Hike through the Dishman Hills is set for April 2 followed by the second annual REI-sponsored service day for the natural area on April 9.

County Commission ready to review Conservation Futures picks

CONSERVATION — At 9:30 this morning, the Spokane County Commissioners will hear the final recommendations in this round of nominations for Conservation Futures acquisitions.

The 36 nominations for Spokane County Conservation Futures land acquisitions have been winnowed to a top-10 list.

The commission plans to review the recommendations at the Public Works Building, 1026 W. Broadway.

Since nominations closed in late October, a seven-member county parks advisory committee scrutinized properties totaling 4,700 acres.

Following are the panel’s Top 3 choices:

  1. Knights Lake, 590 acres
  2. Dishman Hills, 160 acres
  3. Antoine Peak, 240 acres

Conservation Futures nominations ranked, forwarded to County Commission

CONSERVATION — The 36 nominations for Spokane County Conservation Futures land acquisitions have been winnowed to a top-10 list to be considered by the County Commissioners on Tuesday.

The commission plans to review the recommendations at 9:30 a.m. at the Public Works Building, 1026 W. Broadway.

Since nominations closed in late October, a seven-member county parks advisory committee scrutinized properties totaling 4,700 acres.

Following are the panels Top 10 choices:

1. Knights Lake, 590 acres

2. Dishman Hills, 160 acres

3. Antoine Peak, 240 acres

4. Mica Peak, 920 acres

5. Saltese, 555 acres

6. Williams Lake, 15 acres

7. Peone Prairie, 20 acres

8. Indian Bluff, 204 acres

9. Beacon Hill, 30 acres

10. Beacon Hill, 30 acres

Read on for links to the complete list of nominations and staff recommendations.

Moose highlight Iller Creek hike

WILDLIFEEarly Sunday morning, Ken Mondal of Spokane took advantage of the fresh powder and for a snowshoe hikeup the East Ridge of Iller Creek to Big Rocks, an excellent public natural area west of the Dishman-Mica Road.

Coming around a switchback on the new trail constructed by local volunteers under the guidanc of the Washington Trails Associaion, Mondal said he was astonished and delighted to be staring directly into the eyes of three bull moose.

“Two of them had fairly large racks,” he said. “Remembering that moose kill more people in Alaska than brown bears I decided to keep a safe distance. They didn’t seem much bothered by my presence and went about their business of feeding and doing some nonchalant head butting. I watched them for about 30 minutes and then proceeded up the ridge.”

The bulls were still hanging around the old burn area when Mondal came back down the route an hour or more later.

“Winter is a time for wildlife to enjoy some peace and quiet,” said Mondal, who’s involved with WTA and other local conservation groups that have made the Iller Creek-Big Rock-Dishman Hills natural areas a place for all to enjoy.

“I hope hikers can respect that and keep their dogs on a leash.”

The topsy-turvy politics of Conservation Futures and the YMCA

Spokane park leaders figured in November that the debate about the vacant downtown YMCA was about to end.

After all, the financial analysis demanded by City Council had just been released. It recommended accepting Spokane County’s offer to use Conservation Futures property taxes to pay off the city’s debt on the building. Councilman Mike Allen said the analysis had persuaded him to support the Park Board’s request to use the money, and Councilman Al French even sponsored the proposal for a council vote.

But opponents of spending Conservation Futures money on the Y successfully delayed action until Allen was replaced on the council by Jon Snyder, and French ended up siding against the resolution he sponsored.

That vote in late November sent the decision into extra innings, and city leaders decided to solicit bids on the property.

Park Board members never expressed much worry about the process. They said their work on the building over the years pointed to a bid process that would result in no proposals that would guarantee full repayment of the city’s debt. That guess turned out to be correct.

The question for supporters of securing the YMCA was finding a fourth vote.

Direction on YMCA becoming more uncertain

(First, because it’s not from our newspaper archives, I should start with information about the photo: It shows the Howard Street bridge and Havermale and Canada islands, sometime before 1927. There is vacant land southwest of the bridge where the downtown YMCA would be built in the mid-1960s. Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Spokane.)

It looks like March 22 will be the date the public will get to weigh in on the future of the Riverfront Park YMCA.

City Council President Joe Shogan announced that a public hearing will be scheduled for that date, though he added it could be delayed until March 29.

Councilman Steve Corker, who said earlier this week that it appeared that a majority of the council did not support the acceptance of Spokane County’s offer to use Conservation Futures property taxes to acquire the Riverfront Park YMCA, now says an outcome is unclear.

Council changed mind on Conservation Futures for Riverfront Park

First the Spokane City Council supported Conservation Futures, then it didn’t.

At the start of Monday, a majority of the Spokane City Council leaned in favor of accepting Spokane County’s offer to purchase the Riverfront Park YMCA, according to an e-mail Councilman Steve Corker sent to a constituent.

By the end of the day, however, the majority was lost.

So what happened?

It appears Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley successfully convinced at least one council member at a Monday meeting about the Y that a “third option” for paying off the city’s $4.4 million debt was better than using county Conservation Futures property taxes or development proposals that the city received late last month.

That third option isn’t yet defined, but, Cooley said, it could include higher hotel taxes, selling off park land or asking voters for more property taxes. He also reminded council members that the city once had a business and occupation tax to help pay for Expo ’74 improvements.

Responding to an e-mail from constituent Dawn Holladay, Councilman Steve Corker wrote on Monday afternoon: “I am in favor of using Conservation Futures monies for this site. I plan on voting the same this evening.”

(Not that the City Council could have voted for anything at the YMCA meeting because it was scheduled only for discussion.)

After Cooley’s presentation at the meeting, Corker appeared to have changed his mind.