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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Anglers purchase prime steelhead reel estate along the Grande Ronde River

Josh Mills, with the Wild Steelhead Coalition, stands along the Grande Ronde River in November 2019.  Last month, the coalition purchased 8 acres with plans to donate that land to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. (Fay Mills / Courtesy)

A prime piece of steelhead “reel estate” along the Grande Ronde River will become public property, thanks to the fundraising efforts of a group of dedicated anglers.

In late January, the Wild Steelhead Coalition purchased the 8-acre parcel featuring 2,000 feet of riverfront access. The undeveloped land, known as Turkey Run, is also adjacent to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife land already used by anglers and boaters. The land is about a mile upstream from the mouth of the Grande Ronde.

Lynn Miller, the owner of the 8-acre parcel and an avid angler, had long allowed public access.

The Wild Steelhead Coalition bought the 8 acres for about $30,000 and plans to give the land to WDFW in about a year, said Josh Mills, of Spokane, a member of the board of directors of the Seattle-based Wild Steelhead Coalition.

“They really could have sold it for a considerable amount more. Lots more,” Mills said. “I think they could have put a couple of house plots (on it). They really put the public good over private gain.”

For Miller, public good took priority from the beginning.

When he decided to sell the land, which he’s owned for about 30 years, he went straight to WDFW. The agency didn’t have the money to buy it at that time, so it turned to the Spokane Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club and other groups. The fly fishing club eventually partnered with the nonprofit Wild Steelhead Coalition and raised money throughout 2019.

“What was really awesome was the collaboration between all those involved,” Mills said.

As for Miller, he’s happy it will remain open to the public calling it a “good deal.”

Growing up in Montana along the famed Madison River fundamentally altered his perspective on public access, he said.

“When I grew up, you could access that river anywhere you wanted,” he said. “You could talk to a land owner and they would say, ‘Yeah, go ahead.’ ”

That’s no longer the case. When he visits the Madison now, much of it is inaccessible with private land owners unwilling to grant public access.

“It was very frustrating to see,” he said.

He doesn’t want that to happen on the Grande Ronde.

“It is a world-class steelhead river when steelhead are around,” Mills said. “We aren’t making any new steelhead rivers.”