Here's a quick note to put a bow on the package delivered by the legislature this month!
Today, Governor Gregoire signed HB 2373, which makes the Discover Pass transferable between two vehicles. WTA is pleased that Governor Gregoire signed this legislation, since it will better serve hikers and likely increase Discover Pass revenues this year. The pass has fallen short on revenue collections, and according to survey data collected by the State Parks and Recreation Commission, that's largely due to the fact that it wasn't transferable.
What's the best part of this legislation? It's retroactive and contains an emergency clause, meaning it takes effect immediately! So take your Discover Pass out of your glove box and write another license plate number in the same section where your current number is, assuming you have two vehicles.
The new law also creates a new $50 universally transferable pass and lets purchasers choose their own start date.
A great deal of work went into this legislation. WTA's been there from the very beginning. When the agencies came to us late last summer and asked what we wanted to see regarding the Discover Pass, we told them what you told us: transferability. They listened, and due to a lot of hard work - and your amazing contributions - the legislature did as well.
Thank you for helping us move this bill, and for all you do as WTA members, volunteers and advocates!
>> To learn about the Discover Pass and other recreation passes and permits, please visit our Recreation Pass Info page.
The historic Green Mountain Lookout might be breathing its last. On March 27, Federal District Judge John Coughenor ordered that the Green Mountain Lookout be removed.
Built in 1933, the lookout, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was used for decades to spot fires in the North Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Since the mid-1980s the structure has been a popular destination for hikers venturing in from the Suiattle River Road (this road has been closed due to flooding since 2006).
However, decades of heavy snow, rain and mountain sun weathered the lookout and its foundation. A failed 2002 attempt to repair the foundation led to the Forest Service helicoptering the structure to Darrington, where it was restored by volunteers. Seventy-five percent of the original structure's materials were used in the restoration project, and in 2009, it was helicoptered back to its former perch.
In 2010, Montana-based Wilderness Watch sued to force removal of the structure, contending that the project violated the Wilderness Act's ban on structure and motorized equipment and did not comply with procedural requirements outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). And on Tuesday, Judge Coughenor ruled in Wilderness Watch's favor. Peter Forbes, Darrington District Ranger told me, "The judge made his decision on March 27, and we received the ruling today. We have 60 days to review the decision and determine whether to appeal, as well as how to apply with the Court's decision."
Appeal is certainly one option that the Forest Service has in this case. According to Brian Turner, Senior Field Officer/Attorney in the National Trust for Historic Preservation's San Francisco Field Office, "It's unclear as to whether there will be an appeal. The U.S. Attorney will make the case for an appeal to the Solicitor General, and they'll make a decision based on that." Turner continued, "A small silver lining of this case is that the ruling clarifies that the meaning of the word "historic" as used in the Wilderness Act can refer to man-made as well as natural history. This decision is not the death of historic structures in wilderness."
Lookouts are a deep part of the post-settlement history of the Pacific Northwest. These solitary buildings in their rarified environments are a touchstone to others who have explored these peaks before us. For decades, they housed hard workers, loners, wilderness mystics, and in the case of North Cascades lookouts, poets. Should the Forest Service decline to appeal this decision, one more piece of that history will pass, and we'll be poorer for it.
There’s a lost generation of hikers who have missed out on expansive wildflower meadows on the slopes of Green Mountain, the immense old growth forest of Downey Creek and western access to the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Landslides resulting from floods in 2003 and 2006 have kept this road closed past milepost 12, effectively locking out hikers from some of the best trails in the Cascades.
Now, more than eight years after the first of two devastating floods ripped through the Suiattle watershed and severely damaged the road, an Environmental Assessment for the repair of the Suiattle River Road has been published. This kicks off a 30-day public comment period in accordance with the Forest Service’s policy on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which runs until April 20.
NEPA ensures that federal agencies appropriately consider the various laws designed to protect endangered species of flora, fauna and fish, the historical aspects of the project area and the human environment. Along with NEPA are other considerations, such as tribal rights and Forest Service policy on the provision of recreation opportunities to the public. The NEPA Process typically identifies a number of alternatives and proposes an action.
The Suiattle River Road EA entertains three options:
- Option A would keep the road closed to vehicle traffic;
- Option B would repair the road to its end at milepost 23.0;
- Option C would repair the road to milepost 20.2, the turn-off to FR 2680 and the Green Mountain trailhead.
Washington Trails Association supports repairing the Suiattle River Road and will be commenting on the document.
For those whose eyes glaze over at the thought of reading this massive tome, the Western Division of Federal Highways Administration and the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are hosting an open house on March 29 at 6:00pm at the Firefighters Hall in Everett. Engineers and other staff will be on hand to answer questions about the proposed design of the road and a fish-friendly bridge at Downey Creek.
Public comments will be accepted now through April 20. Please send them to email@example.com or mail them to:
Federal Highway Administration
610 East Fifth Street
Vancouver, WA 98661-3893
For background on this issue, please see WTA's blog post from May 19, 2011 about a lawsuit that precipitated this EA.
UPDATE March 7, 2012: Just moments ago, the State House passed the Senate-amended HB 2373 by a 60-37-1 vote. It is on its way to the Governor for signature!
Today, the state Senate passed a striking amendment that made changes to the House-passed Discover Pass legislation - inching the transferability bill closer to enactment. The newly engrossed and amended HB 2373 has the following provisions:
- Makes the Discover Pass transferable between two vehicles, retroactive immediately;
- Adds a $50, universally transferable Discover Pass;
- Lets Discover Pass purchasers choose a start date for their Discover Pass;
- Requires state land agencies to find consistent recreational policies where inconsistencies exist and to report back to the legislature by December 31, 2012 on plans and progress.
These provisions would be enacted upon being signed by the governor. There are several other provisions as well, but these are the ones that should interest hikers the most. WTA's one disappointment with the striking amendment is that it does not fix the requirement that day-use Sno-Park permit holders also carry a Discover Pass.
HB 2373 passed 30-17 on a very bipartisan vote. Since this legislation is different from the bill that passed the House, the process around HB 2373 is not over. The House has to take up the changes that were made by the Senate and decide if they can concur with them or if the differences are severe enough that they will have to be taken up in a House-Senate conference.
WTA has been involved with this Discover Pass legislation since last fall. When State Parks, DNR and Fish and Wildlife began to plan fixes to the Discover Pass, they came to WTA to get a sense of what our members wanted, and their requested legislation has reflected what we told them.
Your help and feedback are instrumental to everything we do in Olympia. Thank you for your continued support of WTA and our advocacy work!
Last week I spent three whirlwind days in Washington, DC, with WTA board member Jeff Chapman. Our docket was packed: meetings with Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as eight of our state's nine representatives.
Our two top priorities were the Recreation Trails Program (RTP), which is part of the transportation package, and the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service trail funding, which is part of the Interior Appropriations bill. Depending upon our audience - and the time we had - we also spoke about forest planning, Land and Water Conservation Fund, Secure Rural Schools and other local issues.
This was my first lobby visit to Washington, DC, and it was fascinating to see first-hand how the legislative process works. We met with staff of each of the representatives and both senators. Some of the meetings were held in large conference rooms, others in dark-paneled offices, and a few while standing in the marbled hallways surrounded by dozens of other Washingtonians.We were able to meet with both of the Washington senators during meet-and-greet coffees.
During each meeting we emphasized the importance of RTP to trails. Because it is such a small line item in an enormous transportation budget, most legislators were receptive. But all of them were considerably less optimistic that the overall transportation bill would be able to pass by the March 31 deadline.
In addition to Washington's congressional delegation, Jeff and I also met with three top U.S. Forest Service trails officials, as well as our national hiking non-profit partners, the American Hiking Society and Outdoor Alliance. The discussion with the Forest Service was particularly enriching. We spoke for two hours about forest planning, standardizing the crosscut saw certificate process, Wild and Scenic Rivers, youth in the outdoors and much more.
My favorite moment of the trip was meeting with Senator Cantwell and seeing her eyes light up as she described her climb of the Grand Teton with a WTA member last summer. It was great to get a chance to connect on personal level about the importance of trails and WTA.
Thirteen meetings in three days left me exhausted but energized. And although I feel more comfortable walking the trails of the Cascades, this trip was a reminder that walking the halls of the Capitol is equally important.
The next step for HB 2373? It'll now move on to the Senate, where it may be heard in policy and fiscal committees but more likely will form the vehicle for a House/Senate compromise. A similar, but less detailed bill, passed the state Senate on January 27.
Here's what's in the bill:
- Adds two-vehicle transferability.
- Creates an up to $50 Family Discover Pass that is transferable
among any vehicles registered in a householdbetween any vehicle.
- Does not allow WDFW to charge vendor fees when people buy a Discover Pass from the WILD site.
- Exempts possessor of a daily Sno-Park permit from requiring a Discover Pass or Day-use permit at designated Sno-Parks.
- Allows Discover Pass purchaser to designate a start date, making the Pass giftable.
- Allows for Iron Rangers (unstaffed pay stations) on State Parks.
- Requires free access days at State Parks and suggests they be timed with National Park Service free days.
- Codifies that the DNR, the WDFW, and State Parks must designate free 15-minute short-term parking.
- Adds to the types of vehicles for which the owners are given the opportunity to donate to state parks upon vehicle registration (heavy trucks, single-axle trailers, RVs and ORVs).
- Creates a $10 state parks support fee on recreational vehicle registrations until July 1, 2015, to be used to pay for State Parks sites that serve ORV users.
- Allows tsunami cleanup to count as volunteer hours towards a free Discover Pass.
- Requires the agencies to develop proposals for finding consistent state recreational policies where inconsistencies exist and to report findings to the Legislature. Refers to inconsistent management of Discover Pass and Volunteer component.
It has been five years since hikers have driven Snohomish County’s Index-Galena Road to Blanca Lake, the North Fork Skykomish, Quartz Creek and West Cady Ridge trailheads. In November 2006, the road was severely damaged by floods, and hikers have since accessed these trailheads from the Beckler River Road, a much longer route. During this time, we have missed access to a tremendous scenic drive and summer camping at Troublesome Creek and San Juan Campgrounds.
The good news is that much of the Index-Galena Road has already been repaired by Snohomish County, using Emergency Relief funds obtained by a grant from Federal Highways through its Highway Trust Fund.
But now the final piece has been delayed. In October 2011, with just a half mile of repair studies and engineering left, work was stopped in order to arrange a full Environmental Assessment (EA) before finishing. Much of the work has already been completed under a Categorical Exclusion (CE), an accepted procedure under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). However, recent litigation regarding the use of a CE instead of an EA on another project prompted the decision by the county and Federal Highways to stop work and compile an EA for the Index-Galena Road.
The EA is going to take awhile, and we likely won't see repairs restarted until 2014 or 2015. That means hiker access to these trails will continue to be via the Beckler River Road. But that's not stopping WTA from getting some work done on trails in the area. We have scheduled two Youth Volunteer Vacations at the Troublesome Creek Campground this summer, where teens will build and install a bridge.
This week WTA's Executive Director, Karen Daubert, and board member, Jeff Chapman are in Washington, DC meeting with our state's elected officials. Their mission: help preserve the Recreational Trails Program (RTP).
RTP funds critical maintenance projects by the Forest Service and non-profit volunteer organizations like WTA, keeping hundreds of miles of trails hikable. In fact, our state receives roughly $1.8 million annually from RTP, a portion of which goes to WTA's trail maintenance program in the form of grants. Washington Trails Association then leverages this money several times over by using it to field volunteer work parties all over Washington state.
Nearly every hiker in Washington has benefited from the funds provided by RTP, but unfortunately this program is in jeopardy of being eliminated. That's why Karen and Jeff are in Washington, DC. And that's why we need you to contact Senators Murray and Cantwell and urge them to support RTP.
RTP dollars run out on March 31 when a continuing resolution for surface transportation expires. Unless Congress passes a surface transportation bill that reauthorizes the program by then - or extends surface transportation funding through another continuing resolution - RTP dollars will disappear.
But passing a bill means that the House and Senate have to agree, and they're a long way off on many critical elements of transportation funding. In fact, the House draft of the transportation bill includes RTP, but the Senate does not.
On Friday, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced Senate Amendment (SA) 1661, which, among other things, restores RTP to the Senate version of the transportation bill, so that it aligns with the house.
This Wednesday, Karen and Jeff will be meeting with Washington's senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. They will be stressing the importance of RTP and Sen. Klobuchar's amendment for the long-term health of our trails and recreation in Washington state.
You can help make a lasting impression of WTA's visit by contacting Senator Murray and Senator Cantwell. Thank them for their long-time support of RTP and urge them to continue to fight for the program in the Senate by supporting SA 1661. Speak from your experience as a hiker and from your passion for Washington's outdoors.
Thank you for your continued support for trails!
The Recreation Trails Program (RTP) - the grant program in the federal transportation funding bill that provides essential support for trail maintenance all over Washington state - is in jeopardy and we need your help to preserve it.
The re-authorization of the Surface Transportation Funding Bill has been delayed for nearly three years now, but pressure is building to re-authorize it this spring. Despite the fact that RTP is a tiny line item, the program only appears in the House version. If the Senate bill becomes law, WTA and hikers will feel the pain. For 2012, WTA was awarded $175,000 in grants to fund our Volunteer Vacations, Backcountry Response Teams and Youth Program. Without RTP dollars, WTA would have to seriously curtail its trail maintenance work.
RTP expires on March 31, and can be reauthorized by either a continuing resolution or a new surface transportation funding bill. The House and Senate have competing proposals:
- House: HR 7, the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, contains RTP funded at $85 million annually for its four year authorization.
- Senate: S 1813, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (or MAP-21) does not contain RTP, but Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is offering an amendment that would restore RTP to MAP-21.
Here's how you can help.
Washington Trails Association is going to Washington, DC from February 26-29, and your calls to Senators Murray and Cantwell will really help strengthen our message. Let them know that you support Senator Klobuchar's amendment that restores RTP to MAP-21.
Please remember to thank them for all their hard work on behalf of hikers. You can reach Senator Murray at (202) 224-2621 and Senator Cantwell at (202) 224-3441.
Thank you for helping us preserve RTP!
The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has kicked off its recreation planning process for the. The process is intended to culminate in a plan to manage DNR recreation, conservation and trust lands in one of the most heavily-used landscapes in state.
The Snoqualmie Corridor planning area encompasses Tiger Mountain State Forest, Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area (NRCA), Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area, the Middle Fork NRCA and the Raging River State Forest. This is a huge landscape threaded with trails, and the process will take some time. But the potential payoff for hikers of being engaged from the beginning will be equally as large.
A February open house run by DNR held presented a bird's-eye view of the many places that DNR manages in the corridor. The one point that became immediately clear is that DNR is bound by any number of agreements, land designations and historical uses within the planning area. Those obligations make it impossible for the agency to accommodate certain kinds of recreation in the corridor - for instance, motorized uses. But some types of fast-growing recreation might find new opportunities. For instance, the Raging River State Forest potentially has room for new mountain-bike opportunities, as well as increased equestrian activity.
It's too early to tell what is specifically going to happen here. It's possible that we will see some new trail connections develop between popular areas. For instance, connecting the Snoqualmie Ridge Community to the forest via trails, adding trail connections on the west side of Mount Si, and connecting Grand Ridge with Duthie Hill and East Tiger are all potentially on the table.
Much of the decision-making around this process will be informed by a Snoqualmie Corridor Recreation Planning Committee, a 12-member group for which DNR is taking applications through February 15. We encourage hikers to apply. Getting involved on a committee like this one can be very rewarding. And if you're interested in commenting or being kept in the loop on what DNR is doing in the corridor, sign up here to receive updates.