The close proximity of a group of mountains known as The Rattles to the the Tri-Cities in southeast Washington, means urban dwellers can hike a 1,500 foot peak and enjoy dramatic views on their lunch break -- or even after supper.
But it also means these ridgelines are prime turf for expensive view-homes.
Now, a band of avid hikers are trying to protect as much of the area from development as they can. They want to raise money to buy land for a network of public trails.
“This is some of the best sagebrush stands that we have on the ridges because you know there haven’t been so much activity here so it’s not disturbed,” explains Sharon Grant.
It’s a lovely, but tough hike. Just a rough, steep road cutting up the roll of the mountain. It isn’t the most dramatic peak here, or the tallest, but as we trudge up the slope Grant says that it’s a very important link for the 20-mile network of trails she envisions.
That network would connect the peaks of Red, Candy, Badger and Little Badger mountains.
“We really only have this time to create another preserve and to save the access so we can create the trail,” explains Grant.
It will cost a lot of money -- $1.5 million -- but Grant’s done it before. She and her group raised nearly $700,000 to buy the neighboring mountaintop, Badger.
“When we saw that Badger was for sale we jumped in with all of our energy and we were able to raise the money and secure the land,” Grants says.
That land is now home to three public trails and sees about 200,000 users a year.
“I’ll never forget how incredibly exciting that was for us. I felt like if I never do anything else in my life, I’ve done this. But now, of course, there is a lot more to do,” Grant says with a laugh.
Of course $1.5 million is a bit more than $700,000. But if the peaks are preserved, Grant sees tourists and trails connecting to Red Mountain wineries and marathon running events.
“I’ve done these hike wine and dine events," she says. "Oh they’re so popular. It doesn’t matter the weather, we’ve done it in the middle of winter and the hottest days of summer and I always get the maximum signups.”
With Badger Mountain off in the distance, Grant says people often misunderstand the desert. She could be right. A recent Newsweek article, penned by a New York-based author called -- Rattlesnake Mountain a “low, ugly hump.”
“You know one of the things I’ve always said is that you can drive by this land and it all looks brown and grey," says Grant. "And as you say, what’s special about that? But I have always said get on the land, because when you get on it, you see all the little special parts. You see wildflowers will start here in February and we’ll see them until September.”
On today’s hike, it's just too windy and cold to reach the peak, but in our short burst up the mountain, we take in old-growth sagebrush, a hawk-drafting overhead, and southeast Washington’s wide-open vistas.