THE LEAF PROJECT
Latah Environmental Agricultural Fisheries Heritage
After nearly a decade of efforts, Friends of the Bluff and the LEAF Coalition finally found a party committed to purchasing and conserving the valuable 48-acre property at the base of the bluff:
The Coeur d'Alene Tribe!
We are extremely grateful for their willingness to protect this valuable piece of land and history. More information will be available here as the future plans for the property come into focus. For now, we encourage bluff users to read the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's press release (below) about the purchase.
RETURNING SALMON TO HANGMAN CREEK
The “Pilcher” property, a moniker coined after the name of the property owner John Pilcher, is a 48-acre property located in Spokane County, Highway 195 lying directly to the west, and Interstate 90 approximately 1 1/2 miles to the north. What makes this property so notable is that it holds 48 of the last of 150 acres of zoned agricultural land within Spokane city limits. This particular stretch of Hangman Creek flows for nearly half a mile through the property before joining the Spokane River just a little over three miles downstream, and is one of the last undeveloped stretches of Hangman Creek within Spokane County.
After a lengthy tug-of-war between the public and private sector over the fate of this flagship property, in June 2019 JRP Land LLC, the owner of the ‘Pilcher’ property received conditional approval to sub-divide the property into 96 separate lots for a potential housing development. This significant turn of events spurred on a renewed conservation effort by city officials and others, as the prospect for this new subdivision raised concerns about additional traffic on Highway 195, along with the loss of farmland and the potential harm to ecological function along the creek stemming from the residential construction process. In January 2021, the Tribe was asked to step in, in a final push to save the historical integrity and ecosystem functionality of this essential habitat from becoming another residential development project.
For Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allan, this purchase represents “an important opportunity for the Tribe to reestablish a presence in our aboriginal territory.” He shares that this area, known to the Tribe as qu’yu (place where Oregon grape grows), “has a connection to our people, as old as time.”
Preceding its century-old incarnation as a farming homestead, historical records show that the area around the Pilcher property would have been used as a smłich (salmon) camp or village for both the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane Tribes in the summer and fall months:
“[Tribes] would come here each autumn from miles around to lay in their winter’s supply of dried fish…At that season the white salmon used to come up the river in great numbers. I have seen them so thick that the rocks on the bottom would not be visible and the fish would have great sores on them from being thrown against the rocks while they fought their way upstream…They had traps sets set there and besides would spear and hook them in all sorts of ways…They would build high scaffolds of willow limbs and fish without salt and they would pack their fish and take it home.” James. N. Glover, 1873
A Coeur d’Alene man (known only as Antelope), living in Worley, Idaho in 1934, described this area saying, “This village was situated on Latah (Hangman) creek about a mile above the point where the highway bridge now crosses the creek. It was a populous permanent settlement valued as a salmon and trout fishing grounds and for the abundant game, including deer, antelope, and beaver which the surrounding territory provided.” (Pacific Northwest Quarterly 27 (2)).
The Tribe is looking forward to the possibility of developing new partnerships with the community on outcomes for the property including preservation, restoration and access. Ultimately, it is the Tribe’s goal to enhance the property’s ecological value in a way that promotes the return of salmon. Tribal Natural Resources Director Caj Matheson states: “This property will provide a unique opportunity for the Tribe to carry the message of salmon restoration further downstream in Hangman Creek and across the state line into Washington. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe is pleased to be returning to its aboriginal territory and waterways; [our focus] is, and will always be, on returning salmon to these waterways and all of the different ways that can be achieved.”
‘ats’ qhnt’ wesh is the Coeur d’Alene word that describes its core value of stewardship, meaning “to care for all things with integrity, responsibility, accountability and social awareness in all spheres of life, human animals, natural resources, and the cosmos.” This purchase is an opportunity for the Tribe to reestablish themselves as stewards of this historically-significant place. It symbolizes a reunion of a people and place, commemorating a time when our ancestors once rendezvoused with other tribes to fish (q’aq’amiye’) and celebrate in the bounty of nature.
FRIENDS OF THE BLUFF'S ROLE
Want to learn more about the property and its potential from some of Spokane's leading environmental experts? Watch the video that Friends of the Bluff and the LEAF Coalition put together for their community outreach efforts.
We deserve little credit for the conservation of the property, but are grateful that our efforts delayed the sale long enough for the Coeur D'Alene Tribe to step in and save the day!