Room to Roam at Saltese

June 29, 2021

By Jon Jonckers, Conservancy Volunteer, Professional Photographer & Writer

Most Inland Northwest residents know about Liberty Lake near the Idaho-Washington border, but few are aware that an even larger lake once existed only a few miles west. Named after Chief Andrew Seltice, the Saltese Lake was completely drained beginning in the 1890s by Spokane Valley pioneer, Peter Morrison, who homesteaded the area and drained the lake to make more pastures for his cattle In recent decades the cattle have largely gone as suburbs expanded.

A runner descends one of the popular trails in the Saltese Uplands

In the midst of these changes, the Conservancy and other groups are restoring Saltese Lake marsh lands for wildlife and people to enjoy. Spokane County Environmental Services Department acquired several hundred acres of the Saltese Flats adjacent to this area in 2010 and have been successfully restoring the historic wetlands and creating a network of trails. Restored wetlands in that area will provide multiple community benefits including delaying runoff to recharge the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, which in turn, could increase flow in the Spokane River during late summer months.

The Saltese Uplands Conservation Area is home to songbirds, upland game birds, birds of prey and a multitude of terrestrial wildlife. Covering over 550 acres, the area features miles of multiuse trails for hiking, trail running, horseback riding and bird watching. Since the County’s initial land acquisition back in 2011, the Saltese Uplands has quickly become a favorite location for all kinds of nature exploration. The good news is that the Saltese Uplands is poised to become even better.

A cloudy sky reflects in rehabilitated Saltese Lake, a project by the county to restore historic wetlands to this area

Inland Northwest Land Conservancy is raising money to buy an adjacent 55-acre property for public enjoyment of nature instead of residential development. (LINK to Send Money to Buy More Saltese Uplands) It’s on the western side of Carlson Hill, which most users recognize by the water tank on the summit. This property is situated in an area of rapid development and will now be exempt from being developed. With the 55 additional acres, the public will have access to roughly 607 acres, a 10% increase in overall size.  Once purchased, the land will be open for hiking, mountain biking and other non-motorized uses. This addition is close to the site for the proposed Doris Morrison Learning Center, which means future generations of school children would enjoy this wonderful area for decades. With its conservation partners, your Conservancy has created a mosaic of rich habitat from the Liberty Lake Cedar Grove, to Mica Peak, through the Saltese Lake area and into the Dishman Hills.

Since 2018, the recreational visitor numbers at Saltese Uplands have increased by 119%, illustrating just how popular and crucial this area is for inspiring a love of nature. The Conservancy secured a very generous purchase and sale agreement from a conservation minded seller; however, we need the community’s help to raise $500,000 by the end of the year to secure and own the land. If acquired, then future trail development will be in partnership with the Spokane County Parks and Recreation Department to enhance the already well designed and much-loved trail system. These 55 acres (about 42 football fields in size) are a key element toward finalizing a conservation area with a healthy wildlife system and preserving some beloved trails that might otherwise become another suburb.

Mt. Spokane, in the background, is one of many iconic outdoor spaces visible from the summit of the Saltese Uplands

Todd Dunfield, the Conservancy’s Community Conservation Program Manager, says, “This is one of a myriad of ways that we continue to connect people with the land essential to life here in the Inland Northwest. With the addition of these 55 acres conserved at Saltese Uplands, the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene community will now have a 600-acre natural space to enjoy meandering trails, gorgeous sunsets, and picturesque wildlife for generations.”

Protecting land and water for the health and future of our community, the natural world, and the climate, is at the center of our work. With your help, we can protect this beautiful pocket of green space to help foster a love a nature for generations to come!

Learn more or donate on our Saltese Expansion page.