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Historic State Funding Wins for Trails, Equity After a Decade of Work

Posted by melanib at Apr 26, 2023 01:19 PM |

WTA and hikers helped secure some incredible, and lasting, wins for ongoing trail funding in the 2023 state legislative session. WTA's Emerging Leaders Program in partnership with Washington State Parks was also funded, along with a number of other important projects and programs around the state.

The Washington state Legislature adjourned the 2023 session on April 23 with great news for trails, not only for this year, but into the future! The state fully funded WTA’s top two priorities:

    • WTA’s Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) in partnership with Washington State Parks, funded in the 2023-2025 state budget, will continue to empower a diverse community of outdoor leaders to explore, steward and protect trails and public lands. 
    • Every two years, $30 million will go to our state land management agencies ($10 million each for Washington State Parks, Department of Natural Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife). That amount will also be funded ongoing in the state budget, allowing those agencies to maintain and operate our public lands for everyone to enjoy for years to come.

Hiker sits on a rock outcropping with arms outstretched in front of the glowing sunSunset at Mount Pilchuck. Photo by Jamie Morgan.

Long term strategy makes lasting impact 

The maintenance funding for our public lands is now baked into the state’s ongoing operating budget, meaning that it will benefit trail users year after year. 

Almost a decade ago, WTA began conversations with legislators around the need to increase funding for maintenance of our state’s recreation lands. Ongoing funding, we argued, was critical to addressing a backlog of needed fixes for roads, trails, bathrooms, campgrounds and other infrastructure. 

Last year, WTA energized legislators, nonprofit partners and hikers in our Trail Action Network to ask the Legislature for ongoing funding so our three land management agencies could begin chipping away at the backlog. The dream of this funding became a reality during the 2022 state legislative session. Over the past year we celebrated as we saw the new funding improve outdoor access across the state. 

This year we returned to the Legislature to ensure that it remains in the state’s budget a monumental win for keeping our trails funded, safe and accessible.

It takes hikers like you and years of work by organizations like WTA to nurture a win like this. Thank you for being part of our movement to ensure outdoor access.

Five people from WTA's 2022 Emerging Leaders Cohort in dance poses on a backpacking trip
The 2022 ELP cohort on a backpacking trip. Photo by MJ Sampang.

    Investing in diverse leaders to benefit the outdoors

    WTA’s Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) is addressing inequitable access to the outdoors through professional development opportunities for a diverse cohort of early-career individuals, particularly Black, Indigenous and people of color. With ELP’s partnership with Washington State Parks (WSP) now funded for the next two years by the state Legislature, the program will continue to empower young leaders as they navigate barriers and enter into careers that benefit the outdoors.    

    Owen Rowe, Washington State Parks’ Policy and Governmental Affairs Director, said, “We’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to share the love of the outdoors and protection of these special places with young professionals interested in careers in natural resources. We hope the ELP becomes an integral part of our recruitment strategy and that we are able to hire some of the Emerging Leaders into jobs at State Parks.”

    A List of More good news for the outdoors

    In addition to our big funding wins above, WTA also supported a number of initiatives to fund outdoor infrastructure, provide more youth experiences in nature, and increase inclusivity on state lands.

    In the operating budget

      • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Natural Resources & Washington State Parks – Recreation Lands Maintenance: Funds will be used to reduce the maintenance backlog on state recreation lands, including trailhead upgrades, campground renovations and trail work.
        Where did it end up? $30m ($10m/agency) per biennium, ongoing
      • Washington State Parks – Emerging Leaders Program: This innovative partnership between Washington State Parks and Washington Trails Association supports people from communities who have historically been underrepresented in outdoor recreation by providing workforce skills training, mentorship, and connections in natural resources and parks.
        Where did it end up? $340,000 for FY 2023-2025
      • Department of Natural Resources — Community Forest Management, Teanaway and Klickitat (Agency request: $2.84m per biennium, operating): This funding will provide much needed capacity to implement the management plan for the Teanaway Community Forest, which includes sustainable recreation and local community economic development, reduction of wildfire threats and improved forest health. 
        Where did it end up? $2m for FY 2023-2025
      • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Natural Resources & Washington State Parks — Manage Recreation on State Land (Agency request: WDFW - $1.31m, DNR - $7.8m, State Parks - $1.44m per biennium, operating): This funding will develop decision-making tools to balance conservation and recreation, create a data management system to analyze outdoor recreation impacts on natural resources and engage tribal governments to ensure cultural resources and practices are consider and incorporated into recreation planning. 
        Where did it end up? WDFW - $566k, State Parks - $672k, DNR - $3.89m for FY 2023-2025
      • Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) — Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator & Tribal Liaison (Agency request: $624k per biennium, operating): For the first time, RCO will create two positions ($312k per biennium each) — a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator and a Tribal Liaison. These positions will provide much needed capacity and expertise to RCO so that the agency can deepen relationships with tribes and communities around recreation and conservation programming.
        Where did these end up? DEI Coordinator - $312k and Tribal Liaison - $312k
      • No Child Left Inside (NCLI) (Advocate request: additional $4.5m per biennium, operating): NCLI provides critical matching funds that support programs engaging underserved youth in the outdoors. The program currently receives $4.5m per biennium while grant applications for the 2023-2025 biennium totaled $12.5m.
        Where did it end up? A additional $2.5m for FY 2023-2025

    In the capital budget

      • Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (Advocate request: $158m per biennium, capital): WWRP is a critical funding source for hiking trails and walking paths in Washington state. 
        Where did it end up? $120m for FY 2023-2025
      • Natural Areas Facilities Preservation and Access (Agency request: $5.092m per biennium, capital): Natural areas provide world-class recreation opportunities on DNR lands, including Morning Star, Rattlesnake Mountain, Middle Fork Snoqualmie, Mount Si and Tiger Mountain.
        Where did it end up? $5.092m for FY 2023-2025
      • Department of Natural Resources (DNR) — Promoting Safe and Responsible Recreation ($5.8m per biennium, capital): Investments will improve recreational access across the state through wayfinding and tribal interpretive signage, trail bridge installation and trailhead facilities. Key projects include implementing the 2019 Baker to Bellingham non-motorized recreation plan and improving recreation infrastructure in the Morning Star Conservation Area.
        Where did it end up? $2.915m for FY 2023-2025