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.