By Mike Beacom
A former gravel quarry will soon serve as the new home for Spokane Conservation District, and with it comes more than 35 acres of Ponderosa pine that the district hopes will provide educational opportunities to local landowners and partners.
Spokane Conservation District Manager Vicki Carter took note of a for sale sign on the site late last year. Carter entered into talks with Spokane Rock Products Inc., the company that owned the site but had relocated its operation to Airway Heights in 2014, shortly after. By May, the district’s five-member governing board unanimously approved the $1.22 million purchase after two public meetings.
Much work is needed, including the removal of abandoned asphalt machinery and industrial-grade waste, but by late 2018 or early 2019, district staff anticipate it will be ready to house their 20-person staff and facilities.
The community explored many options for the quarry, including housing, but residents and local leaders were happy to see it go to Spokane Conservation District. “We were thrilled with the fact that it won’t be housing,” Arlette Popiel told the Spokesman-Review. “That forest behind my house, I don’t want that to go away.”
Garth Davis is Spokane Conservation District’s forestry program manager. He says the new site will allow him to expand the district’s holding nursery from its current 450-square-foot space to one that will be close to 5,000 square feet. Spokane Conservation District uses the holding nursery to bulk purchase trees at wholesale and keep them for up to a few years. Local arborists drop their chipped material at the current facility to use as compost to help the nursery build strong root systems for trees before they are used in local projects. “It makes for a much more drought-resistant tree,” Davis said.
Spokane Conservation District has an interagency agreement with Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that allows Davis to provide technical assistance to Spokane County and all of the adjoining counties. The agreement also gives the Olympia-based DNR office a reach into the eastern side of the state.
Davis uses holding nursery trees in urban forestry projects in cooperation with local municipalities and other partners, and as a result, has found great success promoting the Tree City USA program to local communities; even the 146-person town of Farmington became a Tree City USA. The new facility planned for the quarry site will allow for more conservation work, Davis said.
The district has not decided yet how it will design the 50-acre parcel. Soon, Davis plans to thin the wooded acres to reduce fuel load and protect against insects and disease. In time, he believes there will be opportunities within the wooded acres to allow for public demonstration sites to showcase best management practices and other forestry outreach and partner use.
“It’s in the heart of the metro area, only a few blocks off the freeway. It’s a big property with a lot of possibilities,” he said.