In an effort to begin rallying public support for maintaining tax money to pay for public trails and other outdoor recreation facilities, the Washington Trails Association has published its list of the 10 most “endangered” trails in the state. Two Snoqualmie Valley Trails made the list: Mount Si Trail and Mailbox Peak Trail.
The list highlights what the trails association sees as the two major threats facing public trails — lack of money and incursions from all-terrain vehicles and other motorized vehicles.
The trails are maintained by volunteers, and state and federal employees. The money for the work comes from federal and state sources, much of it as grants.
But with the federal and state governments facing budget problems in the coming years, money for trails and parks could be cut.
Washington state almost closed several trails and outdoor recreational facilities last spring when legislators were grappling with a $2.8 billion budget shortfall.
At the time, public support for the trails helped preserve the state funding, said state Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, one of the key budget writers.
With more budget cuts coming, the trails association wants to begin building that public support sooner rather than later.
“I have faith that hikers can do amazing things when they get mobilized,” trails association lobbyist Jonathan Guzzo said.
Of course, most publicly-supported entities and services face budget cuts.
“Obviously, there are lots of needs in Washington that are not recreation that are critically important,” such as state-subsidized health care, Guzzo said.
But recreation plays a big role in Washington’s economy, he said.
According to a 2007 trails association report, recreation and related industries in the state generate $11.7 billion, including taxes.
North Bend knows the value of the outdoors. The city is using Snoqualmie Valley’s natural amenities as the focus of its campaign to market itself as a vacation spot.
“Mount Si — and Mailbox Peak to a lesser degree — is the centerpiece of our outdoor recreational efforts,” North Bend City Administrator Duncan Wilson said.
The city has not quantified the economic significance of hiking and other outdoor recreation, but Wilson said he is confident that it is large.
“Sometimes, you just have to use common sense in absence of hard data,” he said.
It is easy to see what he means on the city’s downtown streets, which often have several dirty cars with mountain bikes, kayaks and other outdoor equipment parked on them. The downtown area also supports several outdoor recreation shops.
Hikers, mountain bikers, kayakers and other outdoor enthusiasts contribute to North Bend’s sales tax, which is “by far, the largest revenue in our general fund,” Wilson said.
Cuts to funding
The Mount Si and Mailbox Peak trails could be closed due to cuts in state funding, but potential cuts to federal funding threaten other trails.
Maintenance of the Mount Si Trail is paid for by the recreation program of the state’s Department of Natural Resources. The program was nearly cut by lawmakers last spring and could again be on the chopping block when the state Legislature meets to hammer out the 2011-2013 budget. The current budget included about $600,000 for the program for two years.
Guzzo realizes that the Legislature is “staring down the barrel of a $3 billion deficit,” he said.
He said he doesn’t expect the state to increase the money for the department’s recreation program, but he wants Olympia to at least keep it at its current level.
Mount Si is among the most popular hikes in the state, and annually draws about 500,000 visitors, according to department estimates.
Mailbox Peak Trail is another popular Snoqualmie Valley trail, and it has seen rising use in recent years that have contributed to its deterioration. The department has applied for a state grant to pay for its upkeep, but money for the grant program — the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program — was slashed from $100 million to $50 million in the last budget.
Guzzo fears that even if approved, money might not be available for Mailbox Peak.
Other areas in the state also could suffer if federal funding is cut.
The trails association wants Congress to preserve two federal grant programs and increase money for land management from $83.1 million to $90 million, Guzzo said.
The choice, according to Guzzo, is pay for trail maintenance now or pay much more for rebuilding trails in the future.
“If the money’s not there, they really fall apart really quickly in our wet Washington winters,” he said.
The area’s climate can be harsh on trails: Erosion eats away at them, and wind knocks trees down across them.
Legislators are sympathetic.
“We want to make sure that recreation opportunities stay available to Washington families, because they can’t all afford trips to Disneyland,” Tom said.
But large budget problems lay ahead.
“There’s a lot of tough choices that need to be made,” he said.
Two local trails make most endangered list
September 8, 2010
By Dan Catchpole