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

Despite stepping down from job ‘Mr. Dishman Hills’ continues to advocate for conservation in Spokane region

Glen MacPhee, left, Jeff Lambert and Becky Knapp pose for a photo near the Phillips Creek Trailhead. Lambert served as the executive director of the Dishman Hills Conservancy for seven years and resigned this spring.  (Courtesy of Glen MacPhee)

One hot evening last week, Jeff Lambert laced up his hiking boots and tromped around 102 acres of private property near the Spokane Valley with landowner Glen MacPhee.

MacPhee, a former biology teacher at University High School, has owned that particular slice of the Dishman Hills since 2003.

Over the years, he’s worked every inch of it, clearing trash and improving the forest’s health. As a biology teacher, he’d bring his classes to the property, which abuts the Phillips Creek Trailhead, to illustrate the classroom lectures.

In the way of that kind of work, MacPhee fell in love with the place. Still, as he said in an interview Friday, he’s human and he has a “family he has to look out for.”

He’s considered developing the land, even having it subdivided into 15 potential homesites. Yet last week he submitted an application with the county’s Conservation Futures program which, if approved, would conserve that land and join it to the ever-growing Dishman Hills Conservation Area.

That’s where Lambert comes in. Lambert was the executive director of the Dishman Hills Conservancy until this spring and has spent a decade or more building relationships with landowners like MacPhee, helping them conserve their land. MacPhee first met Lambert in the early 2000s and the two have been in touch since.

“He was very easy to work with. When you’re a property owner and someone says they’d like to put a trail through your property, it’s easy to be defensive,” MacPhee said of Lambert. “It was a breath of fresh air working with him.”

MacPhee’s property won’t necessarily be purchased by the county and has to be evaluated and ranked, said Paul Knowles, the county park planner. Still, the application has a shot and Knowles credits Lambert for guiding the process and building trust with MacPhee.

“I think certainly one of his strengths was his ability to reach out to property owners and start conversations with them and check in with them routinely,” Knowles said. “He spent decades building relationships with a lot of these property owners and the end result of all that work is Conservation Futures stepping in at the last minute to acquire a property and conserve.”

Although Lambert resigned from his job this spring, as evidenced by last week’s hike, he’s still doing the work.

“Everyone is still calling me,” Lambert said.

Aside from the relationship with landowners, Lambert has left a more robust and healthy nonprofit, according to those who worked with him.

When Lambert became the executive director of the Dishman Hills Conservancy in 2015, the nonprofit brought in about $3,500 a year, according to board president Chris Kopczynski. Last year, the conservancy brought in nearly $500,000.

“Jeff did a great job. It was great working with him,” Kopczynski said. “I hate to see him go.”

That success is exactly why Lambert decided to move on. He believes that he’s “better at growing organizations than managing them.” Lambert, who has a degree in engineering and used to have an environmental consulting business, isn’t retiring. He’s looking for other jobs in conservation or environmental advocacy.

While he acknowledges his strengths in relationship building and fundraising, he points to the fact that in the past decade the entire Spokane region has embraced conservation in a unique and powerful way.

Dishman Hills has been an obvious success story but across the county, land has been conserved despite a growing population and a red-hot real estate market. While Knowles said Lambert is best known as “Mr. Dishman Hills,” his impact hasn’t been limited to just that area. For example, he played a key role in helping conserve Beacon Hill, Knowles said.

“He’s just been a super advocate of conservation and outdoor recreation in Spokane County,” Knowles said. “Jeff has left breadcrumbs all over the place.”