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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

A farmer’s demand in honor of his mother, Spokane County’s $2 million Doris Morrison Learning Center at Saltese Flats just broke ground

Bud Morrison wasn’t sure what to expect when he drove into town 17 years ago.

The farmer and rancher had a meeting with two Spokane County officials, but what those officials wanted wasn’t clear. When they told Morrison the county wanted to buy the ranch his family had worked for more than a century and turn it into a wetland, he was worried.

At first, Morrison didn’t like the thought of flooding farmland his grandfather had painstakingly drained in the 1890s.

He went home and mulled over the county’s offer. A few years later, he decided to sell.

“We needed to change,” he said. “It couldn’t continue forever.”

Today, the Morrison property is part of the 1,000-plus-acre Saltese Flats Wetland Area, one of the region’s largest conservation efforts. What was once hay fields and pasture is now a seasonal lake southeast of Spokane Valley and northwest of Mica Peak. The wetland is an important resting area for migrating waterfowl and a popular hiking spot.

But the transformation effort isn’t done.

On Friday, Spokane County held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Doris Morrison Learning Center. The project’s under construction, and when it’s finished it’ll educate visitors about the history, geology and ecology of Saltese Flats.

Without Bud Morrison’s demands, the learning center probably wouldn’t be happening. He sold his family’s 350 acres under the condition that the county build the center in honor of his mother, Doris, a teacher. The $2 million facility, which sits on a hill overlooking the wetland, is scheduled to open next year.

The learning center won’t just educate the birdwatchers, joggers and dog walkers who pass through. It’ll also be an outdoor classroom for kids.

Local students will have classes at the learning center. While they sit at their tables, they’ll be able to look out over the water and hear a cacophony of bird song ringing from the wetland.

“It’ll be like nothing in this region,” Central Valley School District Superintendent Ben Small said.

Morrison, clad in jeans, a plaid shirt and a Washington State University Cougars baseball cap, said he’s proud of what’s happening at Saltese Flats.

Where else can you visit an upland conservation area, then walk across the street to a wetland conservation area, he asked.

“People are going to come from all over the world to see this,” Morrison said.

The learning center site, bordered by wheat fields, seems fitting.

It sits in a place where old meets new. Where resolute mountains tower over ephemeral wetlands and conservation projects abut growing residential neighborhoods.

Morrison doesn’t sound overly sentimental when he looks out over the water and talks about how much his childhood home has changed.

But he’s glad the wetlands are here, and excited for their next chapter.

“I think I did the right thing,” he said. “I think it’s exactly what my mother would have wanted.”

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