Spokane County will consider buying 103 acres in Dishman Hills for conservation this week
March 27, 2023 Updated Mon., March 27, 2023 at 2:53 p.m.
Spokane County could soon buy and conserve more than 100 acres in Dishman Hills, the oasis of forest and meadow that stretches from Spokane Valley to the edge of the Palouse.
Paul Knowles, the planning, development and real estate manager for the county parks, recreation and golf department, said in a March 20 public meeting that his office has reached an agreement with property owners Glen and Deborah MacPhee to buy 103 acres near Ponderosa Elementary School for $3.6 million.
Large chunks of Dishman Hills are already protected and open to the public. Spokane County owns about 2,000 acres, the Dishman Hills Conservancy owns another 1,000 or so and the state Department of Natural Resources manages a bit less than 100.
The MacPhee property sits roughly in the middle of Dishman Hills. The Valley View fire, which burned 11 homes in 2009, passed over parts of it, but Glen MacPhee said diligent tree-trimming and brush-clearing helped the land escape largely unscathed.
Knowles said the land would be valuable for both recreationists and wildlife.
It’s surrounded on three sides by county-owned conservation land, near the Phillips Creek Trailhead. Buying it would ensure existing public lands aren’t affected by a new residential development and also allow the county to expand its trail system.
The purchase would benefit wildlife by preserving a wider north-south migration corridor in the hills.
“This area’s kind of a pinch point for wildlife,” Knowles said.
Multiple springs lie on the property, too, providing precious water sources to numerous species.
“In an area where there isn’t a lot of water, this is a really significant piece,” Dishman Hills Conservancy Executive Director Ruth Gifford said.
The property’s conservation hasn’t been a foregone conclusion. Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney stressed during the March 20 meeting that the MacPhees were “fully intending to develop it.”
“It was very close to going the other direction,” Knowles said.
Both Knowles and Gifford said buying 100-acre chunks of Dishman Hills will become increasingly difficult. Most of the private land that remains is divided up in smaller pieces among more property owners.
Ultimately, both the county and the Dishman Hills Conservancy hope to connect the separate pieces of conservation land in the hills.
“It’s a possibility,” Gifford said. “I just think that it’s going to cost us more and more over time.”
The Spokane County Commission will decide Tuesday whether to approve the proposed purchase. If they agree to it, they’ll use Conservation Futures dollars to buy the property.
The Conservation Futures program brings in more than $2 million annually through a small property tax that costs a typical homeowner about $10. Since 1994, Spokane County has conserved more than 9,500 acres of land through the program, including about 1,500 acres in Dishman Hills.
In addition to using on-hand funding, the county Treasurer’s Office will provide a $2.25 million loan, which will be paid back over three years with future revenues brought in by the Conservation Futures tax.
Knowles said the sale could be finalized on May 18, at which point the MacPhee property would be opened to the public.
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