History of the Dishman Hills Natural Area
A brief history of the Dishman Hills Natural Area Project
by Thomas H. Rogers (1970?)
The idea of a Dishman Hills natural area began to take shape during the summer of 1964. After having hiked the trails, clambered over the cliffs and led groups of children through the area on nature hikes for the summer recreation program of Spokane County Parks and Recreation Department for several years, I realized the possibilities of the hills for recreation of the wild area type. The rugged granite outcroppings, forested slopes, hundreds of kinds of wild flowers and shrubs and many kinds of animals, plus the nearness of the area to residential areas of Spokane, made the Hills ideal for this.
However, trailer courts and residences were crowding in upon the hills and climbing their sides. Even the sheer cliff which was the first spot in the Hills that I visited after moving to Spokane in 1957 has recently been blasted into rubble. When I returned from solitary hikes in the Hills I came out utterly depressed at the thought of the approaching time when the entire area would be developed, "improved", closed off, the children and adults of the community excluded.
Obviously this attitude would never save the Hills. But did anyone else care? Was there anyone else who wanted to save the rugged Hills with their forests and flowers and wildlife? I asked Mr. Roy Gunderson, then superintendent of Spokane County Parks and Recreation Department, to visit the Hills with me. He and the county commissioners went up with me on an early spring day in 1965 and were obviously impressed by the area. A picture and news story of our little excursion appeared in the weekly Spokane Valley Herald but nothing else seemed to be happening.
In the spring of 1966 an early spring hike was announced, to show the Hills to the public. On March 12 about 75 enthusiastic adults and children stretched their winter-weary legs over the trails through the Hills. Many people did care.
An organizational meeting was held at nearby University High School with sixteen people present. Many were teachers but this early group of supporters included also a medical technologist, a bookkeeper for a hardware company, a mail carrier, several housewives, a real estate salesman, a doctor's wife, a publisher of a travel guide, a high school student and the news editor of the local weekly newspaper.
The group conducted another public hike, the first of the annual "buttercup hikes", in early April and guided about eighty-five hikers through the Hills. Shortly afterwards, a drive was launched to collect signatures on informal petitions requesting the county commissioners to take steps to save the Dishman Hills. The over 5000 signatures impressed the commissioners. They suggested that our organization acquire a parcel of land in the Hills by donations, to show our seriousness in the project. They suggested also that we organize as a non-profit corporation. This was accomplished, with help contributed by an interested lawyer (J. Orville Humphries), in September of 1966.
Meanwhile we had sought the help of The Nature Conservancy, a nation-wide organization which helps to save natural areas. Their field representative, George Alderson, visited the hills in May, 1966 and discussed the project, starting that organization's involvement. In the meantime our organization, now called Dishman Hills Natural Area Association, sought pledges for contributions and sold booster stickers to raise money for a descriptive brochure. About this time Spokane County announced its intent to establish a large wilderness-type park in the Dishman Hills.
Pledges were coining in. One of the first, and the largest, was for $1000 from the Kiwanis Club of Spokane Valley. Pledges came from many other groups, including the Valley Rotary Club, many garden clubs, PTA groups, Girl and Boy Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, Spokane Audubon Society and school classes as well as from many individuals.
By midsummer of 1967 negotiations were completed by The Nature Conservancy for 80 acres of choice natural area in the center of the Hills. The cost, about $18,000, was advanced by The Nature Conservancy and our job was to raise an equal amount to pay back into that organization's revolving land acquisition fund. The title of the land remains with The Nature Conservancy as the best way to insure the land's protection. Several members of our organization serve as a local committee of the Conservancy to administer the land.
With purchase of the 80 acre nature preserve assured, we called in pledges and sought additional donations, A new idea emerged with the receiving of gifts as memorials. Several acres have been paid for in this way. The Inland Empire Chapter of The Nature Conservancy has contributed enough for over three acres. Additional money was raised by the showing of a wilderness film, with many businessmen supporting it by buying books of tickets. Radio station KZUN held an all-day auction that brought in over $600. Free publicity for the project has been obtained through newspapers, TV and radio. Our association has presented numerous color slide programs on the Hills to interested organizations. As of January 15, 1970, about $4000 remain to be raised to complete payment.
In an effort to save additional land in the Hillsundefinedat least 640 acres are desiredundefinedSpokane County in November, 1968 submitted to the voters a bond issue which included $75,000 for acquisition of land in the Hills, but it was defeated.
Early in 1969 our organization learned that two parcels of land in the Hills were in danger of sale, so we assisted Spokane County in getting an option on one parcel and put down $250 to obtain an option on another parcel. An important breakthrough came when Mrs. Eric A. Johnston of Spokane proposed to Spokane County to give $30,000 to buy land in the Hills for natural area purposes if matching funds could be obtained. This was accomplished late in 1969, with Washington State's Inter-Agency Committee for Outdoor Recreation approving $30,000 and the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation of the U.S. Government approving $60,000. Steps are being taken as rapidly as possible to conclude transactions for some 117 acres of land adjoining the original 80 acres of The Nature Conservancy.
At least 440 acres more in the Dishman Hills are vital to the project and our organization and Spokane County are seeking ways to buy them. The much-used Camp Caro tract, with its facilities for camping by children's groups, is now for sale and is our biggest concern now. Failure to obtain this area would mean a serious loss to the community. We are exploring possibilities of donations which could be used, in applying for more matching funds.
In addition to open space uses of the Dishman Hills, the establishment of an outdoor education center on part of the land is very much part of our plans. On the east slope is an area, not too rugged, with a spring which runs year-round, where it appears feasible to construct a nature center building where people could come to enjoy and learn about the plants, animals and geology of eastern Washington. Also would be included conservation plots showing modern soil, water, range, forest and wildlife conservation. We strongly believe that such educational programs are vital to man's survival in these days of alarmingly great pressures upon our resources. Part of this site is being bought by Spokane County from the recent allotment of funds but the remaining portion must still be secured.