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Legislative Session Update: State Parks and Trails Need Your Help

Posted by Andrea Imler at Apr 22, 2015 01:55 PM |

With the state legislature in final negotiations over the budget for 2015-2017, here's where things stand for trails. Let your legislators know that you value funding for public lands.

Tell your legislators that you support state lands (like Deception Pass State Park) and outdoor recreation. Photo by Bob and Barb.

Now that Governor Inslee, the House of Representatives and the Senate have come out with their respective state budget proposals, the hard work of negotiating a final budget for the next biennium (2015-2017) is just beginning. We’re optimistic that at the end of the day, parks, recreation lands and trails will be supported and funded by lawmakers but to get to that point we’ll need your help.

Now is the time to let your legislators know that you value places like Riverside State Park in Spokane, Tiger Mountain State Forest in Issaquah and the Teanaway Community Forest in Cle Elum. These important public lands must be supported to ensure that we continue to have incredible places to hike, bike and camp.

Here’s a run-down on how things stand in the House and Senate:

Outdoor recreation bill passes Legislature, on to Governor's desk!

You did it!

As of 4:30pm today and in a big win for outdoor recreation, the legislature passed a great bill that we’ve be supporting – SB 5843. The bill will appoint a senior policy advisor to the governor who will promote and increase opportunities for outdoor recreation in Washington state. The bill will also renew the No Child Left Inside program, which provides grants to Washington state outdoor education and recreation programs for youth.

Status: The bill is now on its way to Governor Inslee's desk where we anticipate that he will sign it into law.

State Parks operating budget

State Parks’ operating budget covers maintenance and operational items like staff paychecks. Without adequate funding, State Parks stands to lose staff and possibly face park service and visitation reductions.

House:  State Parks would receive $39 million, which is the same amount proposed in the Governor’s budget. This is an $18 million increase from the current (2013-2015) biennium.

Senate: State Park would receive $15 million, which is $5 million less than the current biennium. This reduction in funding would cut more than 100 full-time jobs and likely lead to park service and visit reductions.

WTA joins other recreation and conservation organizations such as the Washington State Parks Fund, The Mountaineers, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and others in asking the Senate to meet or come close to the Governor’s and House’s $39 million proposal.

Department of Natural Resources operating budget

WTA is a member of the Teanaway Community Forest Advisory Committee. The community forest is the first of its kind in Washington state. The advisory committee and state agencies have produced a draft management plan, including the recommendation to plan for recreation and trails. The Department of Natural Resources put in a request for the Teanaway Community Forest, which would provide funding for recreation planning and general management of the forest, including the campgrounds in the forest and law enforcement.

House: The Teanaway Community Forest would receive $1.945 million, which adequately funds recreation planning, law enforcement and other management needs.

Senate: The Teanaway Community Forest would receive $282,000, which would only fund law enforcement and would leave the community forest severely underfunded for management needs, including recreation planning.

WTA supports the House’s proposal at $1.945 million and asks the Senate to meet the House’s proposal so that the Teanaway Community Forest can be adequately managed for recreation and access.

Department of Natural Resources capital budget

Capital budgets, unlike operating budgets, are focused on investment and development projects. The Department of Natural Resources capital construction budget provides funding for trails and facilities development in our state forest and natural areas. There are two ‘buckets’ that we’re carefully watching because they provide crucial funding for new trails: sustainable recreation and the natural areas budget items.

Sustainable Recreation

House: Sustainable Recreation would receive $4.6 million, which would provide funding for recreation and trail projects across the state.

Senate: Sustainable Recreation would receive $1.5 million, which would eliminate a number of worthy trail and recreation projects.

Natural Areas Facilities, Access and Preservation

House: Natural Areas would receive $3.1 million, which would help provide funding to ensure public public access and trail development in Natural Areas such as the Morning Star and Mount Si natural resources conservation areas.

Senate: Natural Areas would receive $1 million, which can’t meet the high demand for recreation in places like the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Resources Conservation Area.

WTA supports the House proposals for Sustainable Recreation ($4.6 million) and Natural Areas ($3.1 million) and asks the Senate to meet the House’s proposal to ensure that the high demand for state recreation needs are met.

Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program

The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) is the largest source of funding for bike and ski trails in Washington. WWRP is also a critical funding source for hiking trails and walking paths. Important capital projects that would be funded include: completing Phase I of the Twisp Community Trail and providing improved access and a designated trail at Tim’s Pond in the Oak Creek Wildlife Area in Yakima County.

House: WWRP would receive $75 million in the House capital budget.

Senate: WWRP would receive $68.8 million in the Senate capital budget.

Both the House and Senate have provided WWRP with an increase in funding over the 2013-2015 biennium amount of $65 million, which is a great show of support for the program. The House and Senate are not in agreement regarding which projects under WWRP should receive funding. The Senate is recommending a temporary hold on funding acquisition categories so that the local parks and state lands maintenance backlog can be significantly reduced while the House has kept WWRP intact as it has been since inception.

WTA supports funding WWRP at least at the $70 million level, which was the Governor’s budget proposal. WTA deeply appreciates and supports the Senate’s desire to tackle the maintenance backlog on our state recreation lands and trails. We support the House’s intent to keep WWRP intact by providing funding to all WWRP programs.

How can you help?

Please take a moment and contact your senator to let him or her know that it’s important to fund recreation lands and trails. Your senator needs to hear that you care about having access to your favorite trail and enjoy camping and hiking in state parks.