A short jaunt from the bustling Sprague/Appleway corridor, visitors can find the peaceful refuge of hiking trails under the shade of Ponderosa pines that have not moved for centuries.
New York City has Central Park. Spokane Valley has the Dishman Hills Natural Area.
A green island in the middle of a suburban landscape characterized by car lots, storage facilities and corner stores, the 530-acre forestland remains the gem of the area’s greenspace inventory.
Located just a short distance off the Sprague/Appleway corridor in Spokane Valley, the Dishman Hills Natural Area consists of 530 acres of forestland featuring hiking trails, towering Ponderosa pines and around 300 varieties of native plants. A group of volunteers known as the Dishman Hills Natural Area Association helps to protect and maintain the area along the Spokane County Parks and Recreation Department and the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Photo by: Craig Howard
“It’s very unique,” said Mike Stone, director of the Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation Department. “Dishman Hills is one of a number of resources we have here that a lot of other cities don’t have.”
While the area does not fall under the auspices of the city’s parks department, Stone said it “adds to the quality of life” in Spokane Valley that positively affects property value and can be included on a list of reasons why people and commercial ventures move into the city.
Ironicallly, Stone said that oftentimes the natives are the ones who take signature sites like Dishman Hills, the Centennial Trail and the Spokane River for granted.
“You hear it more from people traveling through from other areas,” he said.
One group that does not take the trees, trails and tundra for granted is the Dishman Hills Natural Area Association. A volunteer group with roots that go back to the preservation of the space over 40 years ago, the DHNAA continues to promote a mission that emphasizes land acquisition, conservation, education and recreation.
Before they were known as the DHNAA, a collection of local residents – many from the Spokane Valley area – met at University High School in 1966 to discuss the importance of preserving the Dishman Hills. The group gathered over 5,000 signatures in support of the movement that were later presented to the Spokane County Commissioners. Civic organizations like the Spokane Valley Rotary and Spokane Valley Kiwanis Club rallied for the cause.
Eventually, the campaign led to the purchase of Dishman Hills’ original 80 acres.
“These people took a hike in the Dishman Hills and thought it would be a good place to save,” said Michael Hamilton, current DHNAA president. “They built up the natural area with the help of donations and volunteers.”
Later this month, local residents will have an opportunity to join a volunteer effort as part of the third annual Service Day at Dishman Hills. On Sunday, April 22, residents are invited to help with a range of projects, including fence building and garbage cleanup as well as lunch and live music. In its first year, around 300 people attended the event. In 2011, the turnout was even better.
Jeff Lambert, DHNAA vice-president, described the annual agenda as “rewarding work.”
“It’s about raising awareness and promoting volunteerism,” Lambert said.
The DHNAA functions with around 240 members and a board of directors. Annual dues are only $15.
“The philosophy of the organization is to try and keep it affordable,” Lambert said.
Over the years, the association has accomplished some impressive feats in generating funds for the acquisition of land. The latest effort involves the purchase of nearly 270 acres just south of Dishman Hills that should be completed later this month. The DHNAA provided just over $250,000 for the property while Spokane County Parks (Conservation Futures program) covered the remainder of the $731,000 pricetag.
Lambert said the latest land deal is part of a long-range goal to unify the areas between Dishman Hills and the Iller Creek Conservation Area.
In addition to purchasing and protecting local land, DHNAA also does its part to restore it. After the Valley View fire in July 2008, volunteers rallied to address cleanup, replanting, erosion control and forest recovery. The effort included planting 1,000 trees in the southern section of Dishman Hills.
“We want to restore the forest,” said Hamilton who writes and publishes a monthly newsletter featuring news about Dishman Hills.
As the weather improves and more people flock to the trails of Dishman Hills this spring, Stone said the DHNAA should be applauded for its commitment to “a Valley treasure.”
“They are vital to maintaining that entire facility,” he said. “It wouldn’t be in the condition it is without a dedicated group of citizens and volunteers.”