I had never run hills before arriving in Spokane 11 years ago. So when we moved here after seven years in the flat desert of Central California, it was a welcome challenge to slog up and down the trails in the Dishman Hills Natural Area. Three times a week, I warmed up my legs on the relatively flat mile-and-a-half run from my house to the area’s Park Street access point, then set my sights on the gravel trail that arced steeply into the pines.

Back then, I knew it only as a collection of hiking trails, an anomaly in an urban area. A silent home for deer and who-knows-how-many birds and critters, yet startlingly close to downtown when viewed from the top of Eagle Peak. It became my private running paradise, to be shared with only a handful of hikers and on some days, no one at all.

Photo courtesy of the Dishman Hills Conservancy.

Photo courtesy of the Dishman Hills Conservancy.

It struck me as odd that many people with whom I talked about the Dishman Hills, even those who had lived in Spokane all their lives, had never hiked the trails – and sometimes didn’t even know where it was. It took me six or seven years to realize that that the Dishman Hills are actually made up of three separate sections of protected land: The Natural Area, where I spent all my time; the Glenrose unit to the south of it; and further to the southeast, the Iller Creek unit with its incredible views of the Palouse from the iconic Rocks of Sharon and Big Rock.

In recent years I have gotten involved with the Dishman Hills Conservancy, the nonprofit land trust that works with Spokane County Parks to protect and connect the three areas of conserved land in the Dishman Hills. The Conservancy’s current five-year goal is to help acquire the lands needed to connect the three sections to create one large conservation corridor.

Photo courtesy of the Dishman Hills Conservancy.

Photo courtesy of the Dishman Hills Conservancy.

One of the Conservancy’s primary missions is to balance conservation with responsible trail usage. So when the time came to celebrate the Conservancy’s fiftieth year in 2016, it seemed appropriate to find a way to bring together those who have hiked the trails for years and those who are new to the Dishman Hills, to enjoy and celebrate this natural treasure collectively. To facilitate that, DHC is offering a number of guided hikes and events over the course of the summer. Here are some of the events scheduled for the coming weeks: May 7, Hike and Sketch at 11 a.m. at Camp Caro; May 15, Forest Ecology Hike at 10 a.m. at the Iller Creek Trailhead; June 4, Butterfly Walk at 9 a.m. at Camp Caro; June 19, Father’s Day hike to Big Rock lead by Chris Kopczynski (start time TBD). All events require free registration at www.dishmanhills.org.

Whether you’re a long-term Dishman Hills user or haven’t yet experienced this amazingly accessible conservation area, running, hiking, painting or searching for butterflies is a great way to experience the three areas at your own pace. See what makes them worth protecting, and participate in the long-term vision to link them into one long conservation corridor. To learn more about the Dishman Hills and to keep up with events throughout the summer, visit www.dishmanhills.org. //