WE’RE STANDING ON A bluff at the northern edge of the Dishman Hills Natural Area. It’s brisk March Sunday morning and the clouds have risen high enough to reveal a panoramic view above the pine trees. The vista stretches from Moran Prairie to downtown Spokane and wraps around Spokane Valley. This kind of view built the Conservation Futures program, and raised millions in property taxes to make Spokane County a frontcountry paradise, where great outdoor recreation is only minutes away.

Right next to us is an even more spectacular property, that may—or may not—also get in to the Conservation Futures program. “If this property goes the way of urban development it’s double whammy for the City of Spokane. Not only do we lose some beautiful outdoor recreation and conservation land—which is one of the main reasons folks want to live here—but we are also forced to eventually annex and stretch our city services farther and farther out at a higher and higher cost.”

I’m addressing Congressman Jay Inslee. The Congressman is in town on other business but has assembled a group of local environmental folks to go on a hike and hear a bit about the environmental challenges of our area. It’s no surprise that sprawl becomes a topic of conversation. You can certainly see a lot of it from up here.

I learn Congressman Inslee is big into the outdoors (backcountry skiing) and is thoughtful with his questions. His easy sense of humor masks a head for detailed policy. It’s a poorly kept secret that he may run for governor someday. He soaks in our commentary and prods us for solutions for environmental challenges we present.

I can’t help but think that a big part of the solution is to just get the next generation up to see these views more often. If our kids develop a better relationship to the outdoors we’re more likely to preserve it. Easier said than done.

On our way back down the trail the Congressman picks up a pinecone and asks if he can bring it back to his office. He wants to remind himself of this hike, which he says is one of the best political events he’s ever done. Our hike leader agrees it would be alright seeing as it came from part of our route on private land. “Consider this pinecone on loan to the U.S. Congress,” says Inslee with a smile. Just as all this land is really just on loan to all of us.