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Home News Blog We Did It! WTA Celebrates Game-Changing Investments for Trails, Outdoors this Legislative Session

We Did It! WTA Celebrates Game-Changing Investments for Trails, Outdoors this Legislative Session

Posted by cgiampetro at Mar 11, 2022 06:07 AM |

WTA helped lead the way to a game-changing win at the state Legislature this year. State public land agencies will receive $15 million annually ($5m per agency) to improve outdoor recreation opportunities by addressing crucial maintenance needs. A new pilot project is being funded to provide leadership opportunities for underrepresented communities in the outdoors. We hope you’ll join us in thanking lawmakers for this huge win.

The state legislative session has just come to an end, and WTA is excited to celebrate game-changing wins. With the help of hikers, partner advocates, and legislative champions like Rep. Cindy Ryu and Sen. T’wina Nobles, both WTA-led budget proposals were fully funded in the 2022 operating budget. This is a huge win for the outdoors and those who care for and recreate on public lands. 

WTA focused on two key goals this session: securing $15 million in annual funding ($5 million per agency) for maintenance needs on recreation lands managed by Washington State Parks, Department of Natural Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife and creating more opportunities in the outdoor recreation industry for underrepresented communities through a pilot program between WTA and Washington State Parks.

Hikers looks out at skyline, showing layers of mountains, during an orange sunset.Investments in the outdoors means greater access and stewardship of the lands you love. Photo by Johanna Rapport.

WTA organized our community of advocates to take these proposals from ideas to solid investments that benefit our public lands and the future generations of leaders who steward them. By working together, we've been able to secure investments that will improve our recreation experience on public lands and build a strong future. 

“We are tremendously grateful to our partners at WTA and our state legislative leaders for their work to secure $5 million of critical ongoing funding to begin to address the department’s recreation maintenance needs,” said Kelly Susewind, director of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “This means people will have a better recreation experience when visiting popular wildlife and water access areas around the state.” 

We worked hard this legislative session to bring in big wins for the outdoors — and that work paid off! 

Millions of dollars to recreation maintenance on our state lands

We knew that a $15 million budget request would be ambitious. But we also knew the scale of the problem — just the cost of the current maintenance backlog on state lands is at least $50 million to $75 million each year, not figuring in annual maintenance needs as well. We saw an important chance this legislative session to gather support to invest in the outdoors. 

Thanks to all of this work, by WTA, our partners and hiker advocates like you, the Legislature fully funded our budget request. 

With such a big lift, WTA brought together advocates from around the state to speak up in support. Over 900 constituents participated in a WTA action to ask their legislators to fund the recreation maintenance effort. Many partners — including The Mountaineers, Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, Washington Parks Foundation, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, Back Country Horsemen of Washington, The Wilderness Society and Northwest Motorcycle Association — encouraged their communities to show up for this ask — and it worked!

Wildflowers outline a trail in the Methow Valley Wildlife Area, blue sky above the mountain skyline.This $15 million of funding support lands like these. Photo by Jodi Broughton.

What does that $15 million do? It works to meet recreation maintenance needs by providing $5 million annually to each of Washington’s three largest land management agencies: the Department of Natural Resources, Washington State Parks and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“WTA served as a leader this legislative session in advocating for additional maintenance funding for our state recreational lands,” said Don Hoch, director of Washington State Parks. “This funding will go a long way towards helping keep state parks well-maintained, especially after increasing visitation as a result of the pandemic.”

The $5 million each agency receives will help reduce large maintenance backlogs and support annual maintenance needs, which means you’ll get to enjoy better conditions when enjoying time on public lands. Thanks to this money, the three agencies will be able to better steward the land and meet the needs of visitors, now and into the future. 

“There has been an overwhelming demand for outdoor recreation in Washington state, and that demand has increased drastically in recent years. However, maintenance funding has remained stagnant, degrading infrastructure and the environment,” said Commissioner Hilary Franz from the Department of Natural Resources. “The increased maintenance funding that WTA championed will allow DNR to maintain and upgrade some of our most popular trail systems and campgrounds to accommodate increased use, increase our ability to protect natural and cultural resources, and enhance public safety by repairing roads and gates that are critical to fighting wildfires.” 

As state agencies work on recreation lands maintenance, you’ll be able to see it when you visit public lands in improvements to roads, to signage, parking lots, trailheads, toilets, gates, campgrounds and more.

“As we work to improve and upgrade roads, trails, toilets and the staffing capacity to provide quality service, we will also ensure our efforts are consistent with the department’s charge to protect land and water for wildlife and people,” said Kelly Susewind of the Department of Fish and Wildlife “This contributes to our vision of a Washington where fish and wildlife thrive in healthy habitats and where people experience and enjoy our state’s natural gifts for generations to come.”

River flows with orange, fall trees in the background.Maintenance for public lands means better access and stewardship that weathers all seasons. Photo by Chris Pribbernow.

Funded! WTA and State Parks pilot will expand equity in the outdoors

Alongside the $15 million win, the Legislature approved funding for an Emerging Leaders Pilot Program in partnership with Washington State Parks.

The Emerging Leaders Program began at WTA in 2020 and welcomed its most recent cohort in 2022. The program offers a paid opportunity to grow leadership and professional skills in a safe, inclusive environment for folks from communities underrepresented in the natural resources and outdoor recreation fields. Members gain workforce training, exposure, and connections to various types of work in the outdoor sector – including trail maintenance, advocacy and outreach. 

“The Emerging Leaders Program offers great opportunities for individuals to build skills and engage with the outdoors,” said Don Hoch, Washington State Parks director. “We look forward to supporting this partnership and sharing about career opportunities at State Parks.”

So what does funding from the Legislature mean for the future?

The final operating budget includes $160,000 to support a pilot program in which Washington State Parks partners with the Washington Trails Association to provide training and support to cohort members. This funding unlocks new opportunities for mentorship, skill building and professional development for participants of the pilot program. 

Emerging Leaders cohort carry tools up a trail to do trail maintenance.The Emerging Leaders Pilot Program will expand equity and provide more opportunities for outdoor careers. Photo by MJ Sampang.

More wins for the outdoors

In addition to WTA’s funding priorities, two important outdoor bills passed the Legislature this session.

Discover Pass Free Days (SB 5504) - This bill helps to clarify Discover Pass Free Days that Washington State Parks, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington Department of Natural Resources establish each year. The bill formally extends the fee free days from Washington State Parks to the other two agencies.

Outdoor School for All (2SHB 2078) - This legislation creates the Outdoor Learning Grant Program, which financially supports outdoor educational experiences for students. The bill also develops the Outdoor Education Experiences Program, nested within the grant program, to create outdoor learning opportunities for fifth and sixth grade students. Funding for the legislation begins at $10 million annually starting this year and ramps up to $40 million a biennium in 2023-25.

This was a monumental session that highlighted the power of WTA’s advocacy community. Strong partnerships with state agencies and nonprofit leaders made this a powerful win for everyone who supports recreation in Washington. We achieve great things for the lands we care about when we all work together to accomplish a common goal. Take a moment to tell your legislators how meaningful their support was for the outdoors. By thanking your lawmakers now, you can help build an even better foundation for us to advocate for public lands in 2023. Stay involved with our continuing advocacy for the rest of the year by signing up for the Trail Action Network!