The goal of the Land Council’s Old Growth Hike at Mount Spokane State Park used to be to educate people about why it opposed the expansion of Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park to the back side of the mountain.
But now, after about 74 acres of land were cleared for new ski runs that opened in December, the environmental advocacy group is focused on appreciating the old-growth forest that remains.
“We don’t have a lot of old growth left in the Inland Northwest, so this is an important place to appreciate,” trip leader Maggie Gates told nine hikers, some of whom were taking advantage of the “free pass day” in celebration of the National Park Service’s 102nd year.
The Lands Council lost the 10-year legal battle it led in opposition of the ski area expansion in August 2017 when the Washington Supreme Court declined to review the case. The Lands Council did, however, successfully advocate for the expansion to be revised from 800 to 279 acres.
Gates said the Lands Council’s biggest projects now are planting trees in urban Spokane as a part of the Spokanopy project, removing toxins from the river, organizing the Spokane Climate Strike and advocating for responsible wolf pack management.
Gates interned for the Lands Council during her senior year at Gonzaga University before graduating this past May with a bachelor’s degree in political science and women and gender studies.
“I have always been very compelled to work in environmental advocacy,” she said. “And I see it as one of the most important issues right now.”
She has also taken over planning trips like the Old Growth Hike that are part of the Wandering Wild series. In the future, she said she hopes to better take advantage of the free pass days by reaching out to people who don’t have access to or can’t afford Discover Passes.
Mount Spokane senior park aide Rex Schultz said the turnout is always high on free pass days when the weather is good, like Sunday.
“All the parking lots are full,” he said. “It’s beautiful today and people are having a great time out there.”
He said he feels like more people buy Discover Passes after taking advantage of free pass days. The park also started providing passes for local libraries to rent out.
“It gets people in the park that they might realize they actually have access to close to their own home,” Schultz said. “And it gets people out to try something that they might enjoy, and maybe we do get a repeat visitor out of that.”
Kelin McCloskey and Grace Dalsin, two Jesuit Volunteer Corps members, said they’ve been itching to go on hikes in the area since arriving a few weeks ago, but they don’t have Discover Passes or a way to travel to the outdoors.
“We want to do things outside, but none of us have cars,” Dalsin said. “I learned about the Lands Council and I really wanted to go on this hike.”
It just so happened that Gates is McCloskey’s childhood friend and could give them a ride.
Johan Yugai, an environmental issues fellow with the Lands Council, is visiting from Bolivia for four months. He’s already traveled to see forests recovering from wildfire in North Idaho and a restoration project at Beaver Creek in the two weeks he’s been here.
“Everything is beautiful here,” he said. “I’ve never seen ecosystems like this before.”
Two main focuses of his fellowship will be studying climate change and clean energy. He’s seen the effects of the latter firsthand when leading hikes on glaciers in Bolivia.
“In many of the glaciers you can see that because of climate change, the ice is receding,” he said.
Hiker Bruce Gallaher said he and his wife, Pam, were excited to see the Lands Council add the Old Growth Hike to its calendar because they hadn’t explored the Mount Spokane area much themselves.
“We love to get outdoors in the Spokane area, and that’s a big reason we live here,” he said.
He said he has supported the Land Council’s conservation efforts throughout the years by attending events, and he’s appreciated the educational initiatives the group brings to schools.
Mead High School English and Spanish teacher Bob Ganahl said Lands Council members helped him set up wildlife cameras with one of his classes. They captured photos of a mountain lion and a moose.
Ganahl said he’s been hiking the area for about 15 years and is a member of the Spokane Mountaineers, another group that opposed the ski area expansion.
“Having this in our backyard is a blessing, and we need to appreciate it every way we can,” he said. “The better we understand this area, the more likely we are to preserve it.”
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