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Vandalism forces temporary closure of BLM’s Escure Ranch, Rock Creek

PUBLIC LANDS — A popular U.S. Bureau of Land Management recreation area about 20 miles south of Sprague has been closed as the agency repairs about $5,000 in damages caused by vandals.

The Rock Creek/Escure Ranch suffered damage to fences and other facilities in a crime spree that occurred around March 15, said BLM recreation planner Steve Smith. A toilet was damaged, bridge signs were ruined and two kiosks were knocked, including one built by an Eagle Scout.

The BLM has been investigating the incident and officials say repairs should be complete so the area can by reopened by the weekend.

The Rock Creek management area, which straddles the Adams-Whitman county line, includes about 13,000 acres of grassland, basalt cliffs and glacial potholes managed as a sheep and cattle ranch before being acquired in 1999 by the BLM.

The area is popular with springtime hikers and mountain bikers. A network of roads and trails lace rangeland, leading to Wall Lake, Perch Lake, and Turtle Lake, as well Towell Falls on Rock Creek (pictured above).

The road that leads three miles to Towell Falls is ideal for hiking and biking at this time of year, before the road is open to motorized vehicle traffic in mid-April until a summer fire-season closure.

Rock Creek opens to fishing on June 2. The lakes are open year-round.


Towell Falls are an enjoyable destination 6-mile round trip from the ranch recreation parking area on an old ranch road. Be ready for ticks and aware that rattlesnakes are around.

Directions: From I-90 at Sprague, go about 12 miles south on state Highway 23 and at a sharp left turn in the paved highway, turn right onto graveled Davis Road. Continue about 6.5 miles south, staying on Davis Road past the Revere habitat management area. Turn left onto Jordan-Knott Road, cross the bridge over Rock Creek and continue a little more than 3 miles to the Escure Ranch access road, well-marked on the right.

From here (when the closure is lifted) it's 2.5 miles in to the ranch houses and trailhead.

South Hill Bluffs look spiffier tonight, thanks to volunteers

TRAILS — In the photo above, volunteers pose with the metal-recyclable garbage they picked up today from the South Hill Bluff below High Drive.

Bravo, and a special tip of the hat to the teenagers.
If this looks like a crew you'd like to join for the "firewise efforts" to protect the network of trails and the adjacent neighborhoods and for other worthu projects on the bluff, contact Diana Roberts, robertsd@wsu.edu.
Or check them out on their High Drive Bluffs Facebook Page.

Annual Buttercup Hike Saturday at Dishman Hills

HIKING — The 46th annual Buttercup Hike led by the Dishman Hills Natural Area society is set to for Saturday, starting at noon at the Camp Caro lower parking lot.

The hike moves at a gentle pace for all to enjoy.


South Hill Bluffs to get TLC Saturday

TRAILS — Join the fun as the 'Friends of the Bluff' are having a trash cleanup day Saturday (March 24), 9am - Noon.

Meet at the main trail head just south of the Bernard and High intersection. Be prepared for the weather and to hike to our two focused sites which are 1/4 and 3/4 mile down the slope.

Volunteers are encouraged to:

  • -Wear heavy duty clothing, leather gloves, and hiking footwear
  • Bring wheelbarrows/dollys with ratchet straps and ropes as tie downs
  • Bring several sturdy cloth bags (think reusable grocery bags) for the smaller stuff
  • Bring plenty of water to drink

    Post event cool down at the Rocket Market (0.8 miles east at the corner of High Dr/Hatch).

Jim Schrock of Earthworks Recycling www.earthworksrecycling.com is donating the metals disposal bin.

					Diana Roberts, PhD Area Extension Agronomist WSU Spokane/Lincoln County Extension 222 N Havana St Spokane WA 99202-4799 Phone: 509-477-2167 Fax: 509-477-2087 Email: robertsd@wsu.edu 

Olympic Discovery Trail proponents call for help

TRAILS — The half-realized dream of a national-class lowland trail running 130 miles from Port Townsend to the Pacific Ocean needs money, quickly, to deal with a new requirement for an environmental assessment.

The Olympic Discovery Trail, which volunteers have been piecing together for 24 years along the Olympic Peninsula’s north coast, has come to a land-use planning jam:

The group has until March 31 to raise enough money to construct an alternate trail segment plan the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is requiring to avoid a sensitive wetland area.

See a Rails-to Trails Conservancy report on the Olympic Discovery Trail.

Helpers needed for trail project at Liberty Lake

TRAILS – Helpers are needed for a series of Liberty Lake trail rerouting projects on the 7-mile loop trail at Liberty Lake County Park, starting next Sunday, organized by the Washington Trails Association.

Other scheduled dates for working at Liberty Lake are March 29 and 31 and April 2 and 26.

WTA pledged to rally area volunteers and contribute 2,000 hours of volunteer effort over the next two years in order to get a grant from the Washington Recreational Trails Program. 

Liberty Lake, at 3,000 acres, is one of the largest county parks in the state.  This is an excellent opportunity to get to know the park better and chip in some effort to improve the hiking/biking/horse-riding opportunities. 

Sign up online here.

Info: (206) 625-1367.

Volunteers needed to score recreation grant requests

OUTDOOR RECREATION — The Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office is looking for nearly 70 volunteers to help determine how millions of dollars in state grants should be spent in Washington’s great outdoors.

The volunteers will score grant applications submitted in two statewide programs: 

  • The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which provides grants to build and renovate parks and trails, and to protect and restore valuable wildlife habitat and farmland.
  • The Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, which provides grants to restore Washington shorelines and create access for people to the waterfront.

The grants are awarded to cities, counties, state agencies, tribes and others.

Read on for details.

Friends of South Hill Bluffs gathering tonight

PUBLIC LANDS — Friends of the South Hill Bluff will hold a meeting tonight (March 14), 6:30 p.m. at St. Stephens Church, 57th & Hatch Road to discuss requirements for getting DNR costshare funding for Firewise Community projects.

Angel Spell, City of Spokane Director of Urban Forestry will be there to answer questions.

These meetings will determine the direction of the group in managing fire danger to the popular hiking and biking trails below High Drive as well as to the nearby neighborhoods.

Info: Diana Roberts, 477-2167.



Friends ready to rally for Centennial Trail

TRAILS — The 4th annual Friends of the Centennial Trail  Adventure Auction is set for March 9 at Northern Quest Resort and Casino.

Silent auction starts at 6 p.m.; dinner's at 7 p.m.; live auction at 8 p.m.

People who support the fabulous 39-mile trail from Nine Mile to the Idaho State Line (and beyond) already are getting tickets and gathering friends to join them at tables for a feast.

"Eighty percent of the proceeds go directly into our Trail Builders fund for projects on the Trail," said Kaye Turner, the friends group's executive director. "Remember the bumps at Barker Road - our Trail Builders fund fixed those."

Kris Crocker, KXLY's star weather reporter, will once again be the MC — and she's gathering a table of friends, too.

Tickets: 624-7188 or e-mail friends@spokanecentennialtrail.org.  

Colville NF supervisor withdraws South end OHV plan

PUBLIC LANDS – Colville National Forest Supervisor Laura Jo West has withdrawn the South End Motor Vehicle Project enacted in November after years of planning to guide off-highway vehicle use.

This decision was appealed in January by Conservation Northwest, the Lands Council, and the Kettle Range Conservation Group.

West withdrew the project after the appeal was reviewed by the Regional Forester in Missoula. No timeline has been set for rewriting the project that would allow off-road vehicle riders to establish more legal riding routes on the south half of the 1.1 million acre forest.

The conservation groups appealed primarily on the basis that the project rewarded groups who illegally pioneered new trails in national forest areas where off-road travel had been prohibited.

"The South End project is an excellent project,” West said in a written statement.  “Not only does it provide a wonderful network of family-friendly OHV routes that connect communities, it provides for the rehabilitation of heavily impacted campsites, stream corridors, and illegal motorized trails. 

“I withdrew the decision so that we can supplement our analysis of the project to make sure the decision to proceed is based on solid rationale that fully considers the impact to other resources."

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.

Lewiston hiking author opens hike trails website

HIKING — Mary Aegerter, a hiking author from Lewiston, has opened a Hiking from HERE website featuring some of her favorite hikes in the region geared to hikers leaving from the Lewiston-Pullman areas.

She plans to change the offerings every few weeks.

Currently, she's offering information on early-season hikes at the BLM's Escure Ranch south of Sprague, WA, as well as Rapid River near Riggins, ID. 

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.

Visualizing the long-distance backpacker

HIKING — Hikers who tackle entire lengths of long-range trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail are called "thru hikers." 

Follow them on the Thru Hiking facebook page. 

Congress considers wiping out trail funding

TRAILS — The Inland Northwest, with its fabulous system of rail trails, has insight to what would be lost if a malicious defunding bill gets anywhere in Congress.

The Rails to Trails Conservancy is calling H.R. 7 — the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012 — "atrocious" for several reasons.

If it passes the House floor and becomes law as it stands, the bill would:

  • Eliminate dedicated funding for trails, walking and bicycling;
  • Destroy a 30-year precedent of long-term dedicated funding for transit;
  • Do away with the rail-trail eligibility category in the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program;
  • Eliminate the Safe Routes to School program;
  • Reduce job creation potential, since trail, walking and bicycling projects create more jobs per dollar than highway projects;
  • Contribute to our growing health and obesity crises.

A coalition of groups, including cyclists, hikers, conservationist and others, is trying to get word out to defeat this bill when it comes to the House floor—expected to begin Tuesday.

Read an ABC News report on the bill here.

American Trails is keeping track of several trails-related bills.

Fly fishing, map and compass and wetlands on outdoor event schedule

OUTDOOR PROGRAMS — Here's a few outdoor programs to consider catching this week:

Fly fishing – “Match the Hatch Simplified,” free program by Oregon fly-fishing author Dave Hughes, 7 p.m., Wednesday (Feb. 8) at St. Francis School, 1104 W. Heroy, hosted by the Spokane Fly Fishers.

Map and compass – Free seminar on basics of reading a map and applying a compass for navigation, 7 p.m., Thursday (Feb. 9), at REI. Pre-register here to assure a spot.

Wetlands – The Pullman chapter of Ducks Unlimited will hold its annual fund-raising banquet for wetlands conservation on Feb. 12 at the Paradise Creek Brewery in Pullman. Tickets: Joe Ford (509) 872-3030.

Studs required for city hiking

TRAILS — South Hill trailmaster Jim Kershner said he didn't see anyone while hiking the South Hill Bluff trails this morning.

His photo explains why.

He managed to get home without any broken bones.

Anyone for luge?

Big snow: nordic skiers having fun, too

WINTER SPORTS — Alpine skiers weren't the only ones reveling in the early onslaught of winter and the deep powder in the mountains last week.

Cross-country skiers were having a great time making tracks from the back-country of North Idaho, on Mount Spokane's ungroomed but inviting nordic trail system, and even on the Ferry County Rail Trail, Golden Tiger section near Republic (above).

Where would you go to see a moose?

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A reader emailed me today asking where he could bring a friend from out-of-state to see a moose.

Most of us who live in this region take moose for granted.  We see them regularly, if not predictably. Seeing a moose for the first time would be a big deal for this reader and his friend.  But where to send them?

I had a moose in my yard near Hangman Creek a few weeks ago, but I haven't seen hide nor hair of the bull since.

Mike Miller of Spokane snapped a photo of this bull moose on Wednesday while dayhiking along the Little Spokane River.

Just last year, moose were chasing dogs accompanying hikers in the Dishman Hills.

I put out a few queries to Fish and Game officers. So far, they haven't come up with an area where you could regularly be likely to drive up and see a moose, although moose are being poached not far from I-90 near Cataldo.

One moose was killed in a collision with a motorist off Highway 2 just north of Spokane this week and another was killed by a vehicle two weeks ago off Highway 195 just south of town.

Moose are all around Spokane and Coeur d'Alene, and up the logging roads throughout the region. I saw one near Liberty Lake last week. Elk hunters have told me they've been seeing more moose than elk up the logging roads from Idaho's St. Joe River area to 49 Degrees north in Washington.

 But it's tricky to tell somebody where he could go out and see one tomorrow.

City recruiting helpers to build trails in NW Spokane park

TRAILSSpokane Parks and Recreation Department is planning two volunteer trail building days at Wyakin Park. This undeveloped park is in the northwest part of Spokane at the corner of Assembly and Francis. 

"This area is about 20 acres and will make a great small trail area that is close to Riverside State Park, and the Merkel Trail system," said Mike Aho, the city's outdoor program director. "It makes a great hiking, trail running, dog walking and Mountain Biking park for the northwest residents."

"To make this happen we are relying on volunteer labor to help create another close to home nature area. Your help continues to make Spokane a great place to live and recreate by helping out."

The work days are:

  • Friday (Nov. 11-Veterans Day), noon-3 p.m.
  • Saturday (Nov. 12), 9 a.m.-noon.

Sign up: Contact volunteer coordinator Ted Moon at  lunarover@comcast.net or 991-5166

Bring Trail tools (shovels, racks, litter bag, loppers), Gloves, Sturdy Shoes, water bottle and dress for weather.

Meet at the park just North of Francis Avenue on Assembly Street.

Dishman Hills group celebrates 45 years — with more conservation plans

The  Dishman Hills Natural Area Association is the low-key local conservation group that just keeps on giving. Consider joining the celebration and seeing what the groups in planning next.

Goat-goring lawsuit already having impact on park wildlife

WILDLIFE — The $10 million claim against Olympic National Park for the October 2010 goring death of a hiker already is having an impact on the park's tolerance of overly friendly or aggressive wildlife.

Park officials said they knew of at least one disruptive mountain goat on Klahhane Ridge before Bob Boardman, 63, bled to death after being menaced and gored in the leg by an aggressive goat. But officials have said they had no way of singling out the goat that killed Boardman as a goat they'd had problems with.

New rules for less tolerance of overly friendly or aggressive animals already are in place in the park.

On Sept. 6, a park ranger operating under the new rules killed a mountain goat that for three days had refused to leave a campsite near Upper Royal Basin along the park’s eastern boundary.

Read on for a Peninsula Daily News story detailing the developments that led to the Boardman family filing a $10 million lawsuit on Tuesday against the National Park Service.

Mount Spokane mountain biking topic of parks survey

STATE PARKS – A survey regarding mountain biking at Mount Spokane State Park has been launched by Washington State Parks. People who love the park should comment, even if they are not mountain bikers. Read on and I'll tell you why.

The public has until Dec. 16 to complete the online survey and indicate their desires for mountain biking opportunities at the 13,919-acre state park to help officials plan future trail developments.

Survey questions focus on how park visitors use the trail system now and on how the system could be improved.

After 15 years of effort from the Mount Spokane State Park Advisory Committee, a "master plan" has finally been approved. Now the details and on-the-ground stuff is being worked out.  Trails can and are being realigned for all sorts of reasons, and one of the chief reasons to consider is safety.

Unfortunately, a full mountain biking plan has yet to be completed. 

If you've hiked or ridden a horse on Mount Spokane trails you probably share my feeling that high-speed downhill mountain biking is not compatible with other recreationsts on steep trails. This survey seems to be a start at addressing that.

"We want every visitor to Mount Spokane to have a positive experience, and we know that many people have experienced conflict, frustration, and outright fear when high speed mountain bikers encounter other recreationists," said Friends spokesman Cris Currie. "The local mountain biking community and state parks in Olympia have created a survey to gather input on this matter and I would hope that each of you might take the time to answer it.

"The Advisory Committee's position so far is to create a high speed mountain biking area in the alpine ski area and then apply more restrictions to mountain biking on other trails in the park.  We've reached no conclusions yet regarding what these restrictions might look like, but we would like your opinions!" 

Fore details on Mount Spokane trails and the master plan updates, see the great Friends of Mount Spokane State Park website.

For more info on the survey, contact: Nikki Fields, state park planner (360) 902-8658, email mount.spokane.mountainbike@parks.wa.gov

Judge orders 6 Idaho forest trails closed to OHVs

TRAILS — A federal judge has decided to temporarily close down trail access to off-road vehicles in sections of the Salmon-Challis National Forest pending a review of the forest's travel plan, the Idaho Statesman reports.

The order issued Tuesday follows a February ruling that the U.S. Forest Service had ignored evidence showing significant damage to trails and the landscape from off-road vehicles when it crafted its 2009 plan.

Brad Brooks of The Wilderness Society says the closure will ensure trails are protected until the forest managers can craft rules better protecting soil, water and vegetation from ATV's and other vehicles.

$10 Mil lawsuit filed in death of man killed by park mountain goat

WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS — The family of a man who was gored to death by a mountain goat in Olympic National Park  last year is suing the Park Service, the Associated Press reports.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal court in Tacoma by the Messina Bulzomi Christensen law firm.

The Interior Department had earlier denied a $10 million wrongful death claim from the family of 63-year-old Bob Boardman of Port Angeles. A department lawyer said there was no evidence of negligence in the October 2010 death.

Tacoma attorney John Messina told the Peninsula Daily News the goat that killed Boardman was a rogue that the park should have done something about.

Park officials said they knew of at least one disruptive goat on Klahhane Ridge but have said they had no way of singling out the goat that killed Boardman as a goat they had problems with.

New rules for less tollerance of overly friendly or aggressive animals already are in place in the park.

On Sept. 6, a park ranger operating under the new rules killed a mountain goat that for three days had refused to leave a campsite near Upper Royal Basin near the park’s eastern boundary.

Advocates not resting as Senate blocks raid on top trails funding source

TRAILS — The U.S. Senate voted 60-38 to reject Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky) amendment to siphon the only dedicated source of funding for walking and biking trails into bridge repair projects.

"The amendment was opposed by both Democrats and Republicans, important news as we head into what is likely to be months of more attacks on the Transportation Enhancements program," said Jake Lynch of the Rails to Trails Conservancy.

Transportation Enhancements funds have been the largest and most cost-effective source of funding for trails, walking and bicycling during the last 20 years.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has posted a short story on both the vote and the amendment.

"This current budget battle has the potential to dramatically alter everything from how we get around to our economic, environmental and personal health for decades to come," said Lynch, who's based in Washington, D.C.

Follow the political threats to active transportation on the Rails-to-Trails Consevancy blog.

INW: Hiking Every Glacier Park Trail

Jake Bramante crossing through a make-shift finish line on Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Lincoln Lake trailhead in Glacier National Park. Bramante estimates that he has covered approximate 1200 miles in his quest to hike all 734 miles of trail in Glacier National Park. When asked what he was going to do next summer Bramante said he would like to hike Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada. Story here. (AP Photo/Daily Inter Lake, Brenda Ahearn)

Help needed for Gibraltar Trail construction

TRAILS — Mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians are gathering in November for another blitz to build an epic trail east of Republic, Wash., — and they can use more help.

"Last October, over a dozen volunteers from Conservation Northwest, Spokane Mountaineers, Washington Trails Association and the Ferry County Trails Association broke ground on the new Gibraltar trail," said Derrick Knowles of Conservation Northwest. "The trail, the product of a five-year effort between recreation groups, conservationists and the Colville National Forest, will provide new recreation opportunities close to the town of Republic."

The last two work parties of the season will be held Nov. 5-6 and Nov. 19-20.

E-mail derrick@conservationnw.org to sign up or call 509-435-1270 for more info on what to bring, where to meet, and where to camp/stay.

Read on for more details about the trail.

Backpackers bask in golden autumn glow of alpine larch

HIKING — The alpine larch are putting on their annual autumn show of golden brilliance in the region's high country, from the North Cascades across the high Selkirks and Purcell Mountains of British Columbia.

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness has reputation for a sensational larch display, but local backpacker Tanner Grant just got back from a spectacle in the North Cascades where no special permits are required.

"We do a trip every year in search of golden alpine larch," he said. "This year we went to Sunrise Lake high above the Methow River and it was spectacular."

The snow was patchy around 6,300 feet and consistent above 7,000, he said, noting the hike to Sunrise is 13.5 miles round trip with a serious 3,700 feet of elevation gain

Larch  feature branches with needles that look somewhat like those on fir trees except that they turn color and fall off in fall like the leaves of deciduous trees. 

The western larch of the lower forests such as the Pend Oreille Valley and even Lookout Pass, are still about two weeks from prime time for yellow color displays.

But Grant says the alpine larch displays at higher elevations are likely to peak around this week.

Other favorite North Cascades spots on Grant's apline larch fall colors list include Cooney Lake, Eagle Lakes, Crater Lakes, Cutthroat Pass, Maple Pass, and Blue Lake for starters.

"Always check the forecast this time of year and plan for winter conditions," he advised. "Any precipitation will fall as snow."

Click here to see more of Grant's photos from his recent larch extravaganza.

South Hill bluff forest thinning started; comments requested

CITY TRAILS — While most people were relaxing or playing on Sunday, two dozen volunteers thinned ponderosa pine trees and trimmed branches on the South Hill bluff in a demonstration project for reducing fire risk.

“The idea is to manage the forest so a fire would be limited to burning grass and brush on the ground rather than blowing up into a crown fire that would destroy lots of trees and put neighborhood homes at risk,” said Erik Sjoquist, WSU-Spokane County Extension forester.

The bluff below High Drive to Hangman Creek has a system of trails prized by hikers and mountain bikers.

The popularity of the trails helped spawn a group called Friends of the Bluffs, which is working on several issues related to the trails, including trail maintenance, weed control and fire safety, not to mention dog-dropping containment.

The group is looking for more volunteers to complete the demo project on Sunday, Oct. 16, starting at 1 p.m.

Comments requested

Before proceeding with more fire safety efforts, the Friends of the Bluffs want High Drive area trail users and neighbors to check out the forest thinning demonstration project below High Drive just west of Manito Boulevard.

Email comments to friendsofthebluff@yahoo.com

For info on becoming involved with Friends of the Bluffs, contact Diana Roberts, robertsd@wsu.edu