The Fall of a Giant: Part 1

Story and Photos by Ruth Gifford

Many, many years ago, a seed took root and over decades grew into a massive Ponderosa Pine tree. That long, slow process of growth came to an abrupt halt this spring during one of many wind storms. Here is the first part of that story.

A small seed fluttered to the ground and took root in the lee of a large rock. That rock provided shade from the hot southwest suns and kept the small seedling from being cooked during late summer heat. The rock also provided extra water that ran off the surface and was deposited at the roots of the growing tree. These things helped the seedling to grow and survive as other trees from the same and successive generations succumbed to the heat and droughts.

As Tree grew, no roots penetrated the rock along its west side but other roots spread widely to the north, south and east to take up the scant moisture in late summer and fall. The roots held Tree firmly in place as winds caused it to sway. Those same winds helped shape Tree, encouraging roots to anchor it firmly and to develop a strong and stout trunk. Branches grew outward providing ample space for needles to take up necessary carbon and oxygen from the air, allowing the tree to grow bigger. Those same branches provided shelter to successions of chickadees, nuthatches, squirrels, and insects too numerous to mention. Over time, the roots, trunk and branches became huge. 

As the Ponderosa Pine became huge, so did its roots. They protruded from the ground where the soil was shallow. Roots pressed Tree further from the rock, in the process weakening some of the foothold that had originally anchored it firmly, until a fateful day when the wind came from just the wrong direction. On this day, the wind came from the west side where the roots were not anchored because of the rock.

Now, the rock that originally protected and provided the initial microclimate that helped Tree to survive contributed to its demise. For this long-standing tree to fall during a time when soil was not saturated with water, the wind had to blow at just the right angle that Tree could not withstand the swaying of the wind in its massive branches and crashed to the ground.

Now, Tree lays on its side, top downhill. It will provide home and shelter to a new succession of different animals and insects. It will slowly decay, releasing its stored nutrients and carbon back to the forest and soil. It is sad to see a massive, stately Ponderosa Pine fall, but at the sam time, I know this story is not over. In future stories, I will share with you how this Fallen Giant will continue to provide other benefits to the birds, mammals, insects, and maybe even a future Giant Ponderosa Pine.

Guy Gifford, DHC Board Member, Stands Near the Fallen Giant

Notice the Root Growth, Especially its Absence on the Top Portion of the Root Mass


Coming Soon: A New Trail at the Wilson Conservation Area!

Work is underway on a new nature trail at the Wilson Conservation Area! The property, acquired by DHC in late 2019, will be the future home of a new trail system and public trailhead. In addition, the property will be the site of DHC’s administrative offices.

The Wilson Nature Trail is designed strictly for nature viewing with prominent opportunities to see natural features of the property. The trail will be limited to use by pedestrians only; mountain bikes will not be allowed.

The trail is designed by Dan Wilson, who is overseeing development of the Wilson Conservation Area, and Lynn Smith, who is leading the trail work crews. Lynn Smith, who designed the Flying L Trail at the Glenrose Unit, is also a volunteer with Spokane Mountaineers.

To make a donation in support of the new Nature Trail and development at the Wilson Conservation Area, CLICK HERE to visit our donations page.

The Start of the New Wilson Nature Trail
Photo by Elijah Johnson


In-Person Events Are Back!

After a year-long pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DHC has resumed hosting in-person events! While most of our in-person events are outdoors, DHC will follow the State’s safety guidelines and encourage attendees to wear masks whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained. 

On may 22, we partnered with The Forest Service – Colville National Forest to host a Free Tree Giveaway at the Wilson Conservation Area. At the event, hundreds of trees provided by USDA’s Coeur d’Alene Nursery were given away and attendees were provided with educational information on forest health and fire safety. We were joined by Spokane Audubon Society, Spokane Ponderosa, 350 Spokane, and Spokane Conservation District, who helped us welcome the community for a chance to see the recently-acquired property, which is not yet open to the public.

In addition, we have resumed other in-person events such as guided hikes, volunteer opportunities, and outdoor education events. We encourage you to keep an eye on our EVENTS page to see upcoming events and opportunities.

Free Tree Giveaway at Wilson Conservation Area


DHC Welcomes New Board Members & Officers

Dishman Hills Conservancy has elected its 2021 Board of Directors, welcoming two new members to the Board! 

Chris Bieker studied natural resources at the University of Montana and made a career working for the Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Farm Service Agency. Chris is excited to join the Board and help preserve the Hills as a home for native plant and animal species, as well as a space for outdoor recreation.

Lynn Briggs, Ph.D., is a professor of English at Eastern Washington University who brings experience in leadership positions and developing programs to strengthen organizations. She also. has experience serving on other local Boards, and is excited to help DHC grow.

In addition, Jon Isacoff, Ph.D., was elected Vice President and Chris Bieker has taken over as Secretary.

If you would like to get involved with DHC’s Board of Directors, the best way to get started is to join a Committee. We have strong, volunteer-led committees that focus on education and stewardship.

To learn more about the Education Committee, contact George Stratman at To learn more about the Stewardship Committee, contact Guy Gifford at

Chris Bieker

Lynn Briggs, Ph.D.

Jon Isacoff, Ph.D.


2020 Volunteers of the Year

DHC’s 2020 Volunteers of the Year were announced and honored at the Annual Meeting! Congratulations to John & Kathy Ludders; Tom Tamm & Maureen Miller; and George & Susan Stratman. The Annual Meeting usually happens every January but was held in March in 2021 due to COVID-19 precautions. 

John & Kathy Ludders and Tom Tamm & Maureen Miller went above and beyond in 2020, volunteering extra time outside of scheduled work days and volunteer events to help us get the Wilson Conservation Area ready for public access.

George & Susan Stratman were nominated by the Education Committee for their leading role in producing the Nature at Home series, DHC’s latest virtual nature education series for kids and families. George led in the production of videos while Susan developed accompanying “Kids Flyers,” activity sheets to help youth follow along and reinforce concepts presented in the videos. You can view the Nature at Home series for free through our website by clicking HERE.

Thank you to all of our wonderful volunteers, and congratulations to our Volunteers of the Year! To volunteer with DHC, email to make sure you’re on the volunteer list, and be sure to check back regularly at for upcoming volunteer opportunities.

John & Kathy Ludders
Tom Tamm & Maureen Miller
Susan & George Stratman
Recorded Events

Lichenology with Dr. Jessica Allen


Join us as we host Dr. Jessica Allen of Eastern Washington University for a special presentation on lichenology and microbiology in our area! Click the link below to view the video.

Recorded Events

Geology of the Hills

Join Michael Hamilton, a local expert geologist and member of Dishman Hills Conservancy’s Board of Directors, for a special presentation on the “Geology of the Hills.” Topics include the great Glacial Floods of the Ice Age, plate techtonics, volcanoes, hydrology, and the forces of geology that shaped the Hills as we see them today. Click the link below to view this virtual event!

Recorded Events

2021 Annual Meeting

DHC Seasons

The 2021 Annual Meeting of the Dishman Hills Conservancy was virtual due to COVID-19. Click the link below to hear updates from our Committees, celebrate our Volunteers of the Year, and hear from current and new Board members! Also, learn about our accomplishments in 2020 and what we hope to achieve in 2021.


Lifelong Love of Hiking Inspires DHC Volunteers

Article by Cindy Hval, The Spokesman-Review

John & Kathy Ludders at the Wilson Conservation Area
Photo by Kathy Plonka

John and Kathy Ludders met on a blind date.

“Some friends asked me to go hiking,” Kathy said. “The draw was the hike, not the guy.”

Turns out she liked the guy, and the hike on Crystal Mountain in the Cascades. That was in 1966, and the couple has been exploring the outdoors together ever since.

John graduated from Washington State University with a degree in veterinary medicine in 1977, and then furthered his education at the University of Washington,, where he honed his specialty in anesthesia. He taught at UC Davis for seven years and at Cornell University for 28.

Wherever the couple and their two daughters lived, enjoying the outdoors was paramount, and so was volunteering.

After Tom retired from Cornell in 2011, the couple pondered staying in Ithaca, but Kathy’s brother, Tom Stebbins, had other ideas. He lives in Spokane, on property near the Dishman Hills.

When they visited, he took them on a hike to the Rocks of Sharon on the Stevens Creek Trail.

“He said, ‘Friends are wonderful, but family is more important. It’s time to come home,’ ” Kathy, 74 said.

So in 2017 they did, and since that time much of their trekking has been on the trails in the Dishman Hills. They began volunteering with DHC shortly after they arrived.

“We really enjoy working in this natural habitat, and enjoy the DHC staff and other volunteers,” John, 76, said.

While they’re trail stewards of the Glenrose Trail, recently they’ve been working on the newly-acquired Wilson Conservation Area. 

“This summer we joined a large work party to clear brush on the Wilson property,” John said. “We found out they were looking for smaller work parties, so we volunteered.”

The Wilson Conservation Area is a 137-acre property located off Willow Springs Road at the south end of the Dishman Hills. The property was purchased by DHC in November 2019, with funds from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, a grant made possible by matching funds donated by the community. 

“It offers a mix of habitats, more than just the ponderosa pine setting,” John said. “There’s a source of water that changed the plant life variety.”

He said coyote, moose and deer are often spotted in the area.

DHC is partnering with Spokane Audubon Society to improve the wildlife habitat and develop education programs.

“It’s such an interesting place,” John said. “It will be great for school kids to learn about a variety of habitats. We’ve been very impressed with Jeff Lambert’s (DHC executive director) efforts to involve property owners and other stakeholders in addressing issues important to the development of Dishman Hills as a unique resource for the Spokane community.”

The property is not currently open to the public, only to limited groups by invitation while the trailhead infrastructure is prepared.

The goal is to open a new trailhead at the property this year, and to develop a trail system on the property. 

Clearing the Wilson area and being part of its development has been a welcome distraction for the Ludders, whose travel plans for long-distance hikes have been interrupted by COVID-19.

Their daughter, who lives on the West Side, introduced them to long-distance hiking. Inspired by her solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, and her trek across the length of the United Kingdom, the couple did the Coast to Coast hike, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, in 2015. 

“The English rain can make Gore-Tex weep,” John said.

Their other daughter lives in Lebanon. They hiked the northern half of the Lebanon Mountain Trail in April 2019, and were looking forward to completing it.

For now, they’re content with helping to improve the local trails of the expanding Dishman Hills.

“When you walk up to the ridge of the eastern edge of the Wilson property, the view of the Palouse is stunning,” John said. 

Equally compelling is the much-needed, socially distant opportunities to meet people offered while clearing brush.

“You meet the most interesting people when you volunteer,” Kathy said. 

John agreed. 

“During the pandemic it’s been a great reason to get outdoors and feel like we’re doing something for others,” he said. 


Winter in the Dishman Hills

Join George and explore the Dishman Hills Natural Area’s Ponds Loop and Enchanted Ravine trails as they appear during winter! Enjoy the beauty of the Hills by noticing features that are only present in the winter, such as snow and icicles. Notice how the natural features differ from winter to spring.