For a hike featuring wildflowers, the river and solitude, all served close to home, McLellan Conservation Area can’t be beat in May.
And it’s an escape made possible by forward-thinking planners and our own tax dollars.
When the property was purchased by Spokane County Parks and Recreation in 1995, it was one of the first times Conservation Futures Funds were used to buy land.
Now the Conservation Futures program is a relatively well-known and loved program that has conserved nearly 9,000 acres of land in Spokane County.
But in 1995, it was a new – and for some, contentious – tax.
Some county commissioners advocated for a repeal of the tax, with one telling The Spokesman-Review in 1995 that “purchasing land for conservation purposes should not be the business of government.”
As county leaders debated the future of the program, Bob McLellan hoped to sell his undeveloped land to someone who could promise it wouldn’t be developed. Spokane County seemed like a good bet.
At the time, the McLellan family had been grazing cattle and horses on the property for 47 years. The wooded land, which sits on a peninsula that juts into Lake Spokane directly across from Tuntum, also served as a family retreat with about 4,000 feet of undeveloped shoreline.
McLellan, then 78 year old, told The S-R, “At my age, I feel we need to do something to preserve some of this unique land, not only for our grandchildren but for the public in general.”
The purchase was approved and in 1995 the county bought the land for $1.1 million.
McLellan died in 2000 at 83. The Conservation Futures program, which was not repealed, is funded by a 4.67-cent tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value in Spokane County. It brings in about $1.5 million in annual tax revenues.
Not much recreational work has been done on the land, said Paul Knowles, the Spokane County parks planner. The trail system that exists follows old logging roads, with one poorly maintained single-track trail running along the outside of the property.
Knowles said the county hopes to do more trail work on the property in the coming years. While it doesn’t feature the most developed trail system, it’s still a joyous place to spend a few hours. On a recent May morning, arrowleaf balsamroot was in full bloom.
Most of the trails are on a plateau, so the hiking is easy. Dropping down to the lake adds about 300 feet of elevation gain. Surrounded by Lake Spokane on three sides, there is plenty of shoreline access with great views of Scoop Mountain. The area is perfect for a hike with children, trail running, snowshoeing or cross country skiing. The most scenic time to visit is in the spring with flowers blooming.
“Basically, now through the end of May is probably the best time to visit because there are a ton of balsam root and other wildflowers out there,” Knowles said. “Once we get into mid-June, things really start to dry out.”
Since the purchase, the county has completed a number of forest thinning and management projects. Over the winter, it thinned 63 acres. That project is visible through a portion of the hike.
Next, the county will thin roughly 240 acres of “crowded trees,” Knowles said.
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