Trails for everyone, forever
We're reimagining Washington's trail system — starting with the most beloved hiking spots across the state | by Allie Tripp
Our state’s iconic trails serve as touchstones for locals and newcomers alike, appearing all over social media, listed in outdoor guides and serving as living testaments for the unmatched beauty of our region.
But these trails don’t just happen.
They require thoughtful planning, public funding and commitment from communities to maintain. As Washington’s population has grown, growing demand for trails and chronic underfunding has placed an inordinate amount of strain on the system. Significant effort and innovation are required if we are going to have trails for everyone, forever.
WTA has a history of stepping in when it’s needed so hikers always have trails to explore. Now, we’re focusing our efforts on building a sustainable trail system for the future. We are excited to share with you the beginning of our Trails Rebooted campaign, which is creating solutions to support our popular recreation areas by improving existing trails, championing the construction of new ones and helping hikers see the role they play in the future of trails.
Where you might see a single trail, we are looking at landscape level opportunities. Where you might see a crowded parking lot, WTA sees dozens of new hikers who could become champions for trails and public lands. These hikers could attend Hiker Rally Day, become trail ambassadors, volunteer to do trail work and become WTA members!
Through Trails Rebooted, WTA is focused on improving existing trails while supporting the construction of new ones. We will guide hikers to similarly inspiring experiences, just on new and different trails. In 2019, we will be exploring solutions in several pilot areas that we believe can meet the needs of hikers in the future. Reimagining and upgrading these trail systems now — with sustainability and growing demand in mind — will guarantee memorable hikes for generations to come. Here are the areas where we’re focusing our attention first:
The Teanaway area is a favorite among WTA staff. And now, this area is even better for outdoor recreation with the addition of the Teanaway Community Forest. The forest, the first of its kind in Washington, offers stupendous recreation opportunities just beyond the hubbub of the most popular parts of the I-90 corridor.
This sun-drenched side of the Cascades offers early-season escapes from rain and a wide variety of biodiversity to admire while you hike. WTA is proud to have been supporting this area since its purchase in 2013. In late 2018, the forest’s 15-year recreation plan was finalized, including input from hundreds of WTA advocates. In this pilot area, we are excited to contribute to the execution of this recreation plan through trail building and maintenance and relationship building with the local community, other nonprofits and land managers. We see this trail system becoming a new network to explore beyond the popular I-90 trails, dispersing hikers and offering connections to the greater Teanaway area beyond the community forest.
Just outside the northeast corner of Mount Rainier National Park, this area has several wonderful hikes that are already popular. Recent fires and an ongoing landscape analysis by the U.S. Forest Service offer a ripe opportunity to think decades into the future about what recreation could look like in this region. In this pilot area, WTA hopes to work with users to create a more sustainable trail system for hikers, offering new adventures to educate and engage people on the importance of this landscape to the local watershed and all the communities downstream.
Several trails off the Mountain Loop Highway are already well known — just check out the parking lots in the middle of a sunny Saturday. As this area continues to grow in popularity, we hope to partner with land managers, other recreation groups and local communities to reimagine what new and more sustainable trails and infrastructure could look like, including expanding trailheads and creating new hiking opportunities. There are several local economies, like the town of Darrington, that benefit from the recreation economy on the Mountain Loop Highway and are committed to investing in local recreation infrastructure. We want to take a close look at the hiker experience on trails and at trailheads, and consider how we can help improve it.
The recreation community in Spokane has demonstrated a passion for trails that is unparalleled. The area has a short trail maintenance season thanks to regular snowfall, but that hasn’t stopped WTA’s volunteer community from seeking out creative opportunities to stay engaged (just search “snowshoe work party” on our website). In this pilot area, WTA is building more opportunities for these folks to improve and expand close-to-home trails to meet Spokane’s growing population and demand for great hiking.
By engaging hikers and looking at the larger landscapes, we can set the standard for what it means to have a statewide vision for trails and inspire people to be champions.
What is your favorite trail in Washington? A few of ours include Oyster Dome, Mailbox Peak, Blanca Lake, Umtanum Canyon, Colchuck Lake and Marmot Pass. Our state’s popular trails are popular for a reason. They offer unmatched beauty and are often close to population centers, making them a straightforward half-day or daylong adventure.
As a part of Trails Rebooted, WTA is developing strategies to support 100 of Washington’s most iconic trails. We’ll use every tool we have to protect these trails, whether that means promoting transit-to-trails access to congested parking at trailheads or sending two volunteer backcountry response teams to Blanca Lake this summer to address some much-needed trail maintenance.
Supporting trails is not just about much-needed trail maintenance, though. It’s also about hiker awareness, transportation access, information about trail conditions from trip reports and so much more. We need targeted education to improve on-trail experiences and help hikers discover brand-new adventures. Here are two focused ways we’re working to improve hikers’ experiences on trail:
If you haven’t seen our Trail Smarts video series, now is a great time to check it out. These videos provide quick refreshers on some of the basic ways to be a responsible hiker to ensure everyone has a great time on trail.
Throughout 2019, we will be working to assess road access to trails across the state. Quality roads are crucial to hikers and to trail maintenance. We are aiming to better understand the current state of roads to trails. This work will guide our efforts to make the largest impact on improving those experiences by demonstrating to decision makers that investment in roads is an investment in our state’s recreation economy and the hiker experience.
By 2025, our pilot locations will be increasingly able to offer more outdoor experiences, easing congestion on other trails. At the same time, our state’s most iconic and popular trails will be more sustainably routed and more easily accessed by public transportation. And finally, everyone who hikes in Washington will see themselves as part of the solution to ensure trails for everyone, forever.
Sold on the idea of Trails Rebooted? That’s great – we won’t be able to achieve anything without you. Here’s how you can help right now: