Trautman Ranch – the Missing Link

August 9, 2015

It was worth the wait. And the effort. It took ten years, the long-term vision of the landowner, a willing family, nimble agencies,foresighted voters and Inland Northwest Land Conservancy to pull it off. But as of June 2015, the 280-acre Trautman Ranch has been preserved forever for wildlife habitat and to connect people with nature. Since 1933, it has been—literally—the missing link, separating two big blocks of Riverside State Park (RSP), with which it shares nearly two miles of boundaries.

Across the Spokane River are thousands of acres of state and county park land along the Little Spokane River. RSP headquarters are a stone’s throw from the property, and public trails approach from all directions, including the Centennial Trail. The Trautman Ranch has its own internal trails, but there has never been public access across the property to connect the public footpaths. Soon there will be. John Trautman, who grew up on the ranch and returned to live out his final decades there, hoped to see the land protected. As his son Gary stated, “[my father] wanted the ranch to be a part of the state park lands. He did not want it developed. This land would link together state park lands that border both sides.” The property is a diverse sanctuary and a major wildlife corridor, stepping down 570 feet along basalt benches, across meadows sculpted by ice age floods, and across the Centennial Trail to the Spokane River. It’s criss-crossed by animal trails, and this time of year, covered in arrowleaf balsamroot and other wildflowers. Gary Trautman continues, “There are terrific views of the Spokane River from the highest western ridge above Carlson Road. There are long gentle fields to walk in along with quiet pine forests that border them. You might even get to see Mama Moose eating apples in the orchard and see her babies gallop around as they play.”

According to Gary’s brother, John R. Trautman, quiet is the defining feature of the property. “The ranch is a perfect picture of solitude. When you go walking you might stop and wonder what it is you are hearing in the quiet. It is so quiet you can hear the pine needles rubbing against each other in the breeze. It is that kind of moment I would like to see the public get to enjoy as much as our family has.” Eric Erickson, INLC’s GIS analyst, concurs. “One of the remarkable features of the Trautman property is how utterly quiet it is. Due to a happy combination of topography and distance from busy roads and developed areas, there are no noises to be heard other than the sound of the wind in the trees and the abundant bird songs.”

Eric, who lives nearby in Nine Mile Falls, describes the property in detail: “The numerous springs and seeps that emerge from the base of the 1500 foot high basalt flows along the southwest edge of the meadow have produced a small pond and wetland, and an unusual near-jungle of deciduous trees and plants and sub-irrigated grassland. This ecosystem provides food, water, and cover for animals ranging in size from moose and bear, to tiny snakes and rodents, and the birds and animals that prey upon them.” Moved by the solitude and conservation values of the land, Eric took a personal interest in preserving it. “Needless to say, it is a wonderful place to sit quietly and enjoy the peacefulness and watch the wildlife.”

Adding the Trautman Ranch to the park that surrounds it may sound simple, but the details are not. Who owns the land? Who maintains it? How is the family compensated? Who pays for acquisition and stewardship? It can takes years of patience, persistence and professionalism to bring a land deal together—in this case, ten years. Two of INLC’s conservation directors, Asha Rehnberg and Roger McRoberts, along with Eric Erickson, walked the land with John Trautman in 2005 and 2010, and listened to his wishes. They all did their best to line up a sale to the state and county park systems, but the deals fell through. Over the years, INLC and Eric continued to check in with John Trautman from time to time. Unfortunately, when John passed away at the end of May 2014, the ranch remained unprotected.

In June 2014, Eric invited Gary Trautman (his father’s executor) to his house to meet with Paul Knowles of Spokane County Parks, Chris Guidotti of Riverside State Park, and me (then executive director of INLC). We took a long hot tour around the Trautman Ranch, then cooled off with iced tea at Eric’s. As the glasses sweated, Gary said he was willing to sell the property to be a park if the family got fair value, if the deal could close quickly, and if the land would be well managed. Riverside State Park wanted the land, but had no budget for acquisitions. Paul said the County could consider it an “unforeseen opportunity” for the Conservation Futures program to evaluate and, if all went well, purchase the property.

For land to be purchased with the Conservation Futures fund, the property must be nominated and approved. But to make sure that approval would be forthcoming, there was work to be done. Spread out across the property was 75 years of discarded refuse that needed to be cleaned up. There were numerous derelict vehicles to be hauled away, in addition to abandoned appliances, discarded belongings, and dumped trash, as well as heaps of branches, bark and other organic debris. The ranch buildings—including the house, the garage, a small bunkhouse, a large dairy and horse barn, a hay shed and other outbuildings—had to be demolished and removed. Gary enlisted his friend Jim Larkin to help, and together they spent nearly a year filling and hauling away trailer after trailer of Goodwill donations, recycling and junk. The Trautmans paid for the demolition of the buildings, including asbestos abatement and removal. In all, Gary and Jim performed more than 1200 man hours of labor to restore the land to its current, park-worthy splendor.

Meanwhile Eric, who had written a Conservation Futures (CF) nomination for the land in 2005, kick-started an updated CF nomination with the backing of INLC. He led tours of the land, made maps and gathered 21 letters of support. INLC’s Land Protection Committee and Board of Directors enthusiastically backed the nomination. Gary and his brother John signed on, and pledged additional money for a park management fund, as did other donors. While the Conservation Futures process churned forward, the Trautman sons held competing offers at bay.

Spokane County Parks and Riverside State Park swiftly worked out an agreement: if the county would buy the land, the state would manage it. In June of 2015, the deal was signed: the missing link is no longer missing! Spokane County and Riverside State Park are developing plans for trails, interpretive displays and so on. We hope you will enjoy getting to know “the missing link!”