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Improvements on Their Way to Trails and Lands Near You

During the 2022 state legislative session, WTA rallied our partners and hiking community to make an ambitious ask. It paid off when lawmakers agreed to provide $5 million annually to each of Washington’s three largest land management agencies. This funding is already helping the agencies clear trails, improve parking lots, repair roads, removing hazard trees, install water sources and more.

“Truly incredible” and “kind of unbelievable” are some of the words that Andrea Martin, Recreation Policy Manager at Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), used to describe last year’s $5 million of new ongoing, annual maintenance funding. During the 2022 state legislative session, WTA rallied our partners and hiking community to make this ambitious ask, and it paid off. Our lawmakers agreed to provide $5 million annually to each of Washington’s three largest land management agencies: the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Washington State Parks.

Mount Si trailhead before/after maintenance funding
Mount Si trailhead before and after new maintenance funding. Photo from DNR. 

Funding infusion already at work fixing the maintenance backlog

More than ninety percent of Washingtonians recreate outside, according to the State of Washington 2022 Assessment of Outdoor Recreation Demand Report. That high demand for our outdoor spaces combined with a growing state population means an increased strain on our public lands. State Parks function like small towns with water, power, sewer, roads, irrigation, grounds, buildings and nearly 1,300 miles of trails. But the funding needed to maintain those public lands has not kept up with demand. The three state land management agencies estimate a combined funding gap of $50 to $75 million annually. With the infusion of $5 million in annual funding per agency, they can make significant progress in improving visitor experience and safety while also better protecting our state’s natural and cultural resources. 

All three state land management agencies – DNR, State Parks, and WDFW – are already putting this funding to work by – clearing trails; improving parking lots; grading roads; repairing restrooms; removing hazard trees and installing shelters, water sources and informational kiosks.

Reliable, ongoing funding

The new maintenance funding is doing more than simply performing needed fixes to facilities. 

“WDFW is putting the new funds to use for initial critical hard infrastructure costs as well as the work required to plan, manage, and monitor recreation so that we are poised to address the highest priority needs into the future,” said Joel Sisolak, WDFW’s Lands Planning, Recreation and Outreach Section Manager. 

Reliable, ongoing funding allows state land managers to be strategic in a way that wasn’t possible before. This includes investing in increased capacity to better address the issues that have emerged due to the long-standing backlog: 

  • DNR has hired six new field maintenance staff, including in rural areas such as the Olympic Peninsula and DNR’s Northeast Region, to better cover the state. 
  • State Parks created two seasonal maintenance positions dedicated to the Palouse to Cascades Trail, as well as a Marine Facilities Maintenance Manager position. 
  • WDFW is increasing on-the-ground support for responsible recreation at water access areas, fishing lakes, camping sites, Green Dot trails and target shooting areas.

State agencies are teaming up with nonprofit partners to make this public funding go even further. WDFW has also added staff to track and prioritize infrastructure needs, support recreation planning and strengthen partnerships with Washington Trails Association, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, Back Country Horsemen of Washington and other organizations.

2022 state maintenance funding locations

Funding has brought improvements to these locations around Washington, with more work planned for 2023.

Amplifying the impact: WTA makes state funding go farther

Beginning in the summer of 2022, DNR partnered with the Weyerhaeuser Company, WTA and the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) to rebuild a trail network on the summits of West Tiger Mountain in the Issaquah Alps. The trails on this portion of West Tiger summit Mountain explore a 90-acre stretch of land that is owned by the timber company Weyerhaeuser and are closely connected to the trail system in the adjacent DNR-managed West Tiger Mountain Natural Resources Conservation Area. Although managed as a private forest, the area is open to public access and has been a classic Seattle-area recreational destination for decades. 

In the fall of 2021, the trails here were temporarily closed for public safety during a planned timber harvest of Weyerhaeuser’s property. After the timber harvest was completed, DNR, WTA volunteers and WCC began work to rebuild and improve the trail system and to restore public recreational access to the area. On a project like this, WTA can leverage the state’s maintenance funding many times over through our volunteer work parties. WTA has already contributed 2,050 hours to restore the West Tiger Mountain trails with more work planned for 2023. Of the WTA hours, 1,849 were volunteer hours, equaling more than $53,000 in donated labor. (Thanks, volunteers!) This is one example where reliable state funding is deepening partnerships between state agencies like DNR and nonprofits like WTA. Sustainable funding gives both organizations the flexibility to be strategic in their work, invest in consistent staff and increase volunteer opportunities. This benefits all Washingtonians who recreate outdoors.

We won big last year. Help us do it again!

Seeing what this funding has accomplished energizes us for the future. We dreamed big when WTA and our partners made the original ask of $15 million annual maintenance funding, and it would not have happened without the 900 individuals who joined us in contacting our lawmakers.

This legislative session we are back to make sure this reliable, annual funding for public lands remains in Washington’s budget.