Cantwell, Murray: Recognize our I-90 corridor as Heritage Area
A bipartisan proposal to designate the Mountains to Sound Greenway as a National Heritage Area, stalled in the House of Representative, was introduced Tuesday in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, D-Wash.
The National Heritage Area — covering 1.4 million acres along the I-90 corridor from Seattle to Ellensburg — would be the first such designation in Washington state. Congress has recognized 49 such areas across the country to preserve natural and historic landmarks and promote economic growth and tourism.
The Senators’ support is badly needed. The Heritage Area proposal was introduced 15 months ago in the House by Republican Rep. Dave Reichert. But it has gone nowhere in a chamber controlled by his fellow Republicans.
The Heritage designation, and a bipartisan Alpine Lakes bill, have been stalled in the House Natural Resources Committee: The panel is chaired by another Washington Republican, U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings. Ex-Republican U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton has even urged Greenway supporters to lobby Hastings.
The I-90 corridor seemed destined, 30 years ago, to become a mountain slum in which suburban sprawl would give way to mountain clearcuts.
But action in this Washington has changed all that.
In a remarkable effort, the Mountains to Sound Greenway brought together historic adversaries in the state’s wilderness battles. The Greenway has wheedled money to buy up public lands, built trails and viewpoints, and helped in cleaning up the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River — the closest mountain valley to Seattle.
The National Heritage Area designation would “build on nearly two decades of efforts to preserve our state’s natural landscape for future generations,” said Cantwell.
“From the Yakima River Basin to the Puget Sound, this designation would help boost tourism to some of Washington state’s most scenic and historic landscapes,” she added.
A National Heritage Area is a designated partnership between the National Park Service, states and local communities. Although such areas are not national parks, the Park Service supports local and state efforts to preserve natural resources and promote tourism.
The overall boss of the National Park Service, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, was a major player in Mountains to Sound Greenway when she served as CEO of Recreational Equipment, Inc.
With Rep. Hastings due to retire in November, here is what is currently sitting in his committee:
–Reichert has sponsored, since 2007, legislation that would add the wild Pratt River valley in eastern King County to the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area.
A Democratic-run House passed the legislation in 2010. But it has not moved out of the Natural Resources Committee since the GOP took control in 2011.
–The legislation would also put the Middle Fork-Snoqualmie into the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Volunteers have hauled tons of trash out of the valley. Sen. Gorton secured money to build a big campground. The valley is within 90 minutes’ drive for 1.5 million Washington residents.
–The National Heritage Area legislation was introduced with fanfare by Reichert at an Issaquah meeting in April of last year. It boasts support from King and Kittitas County officials. “There is no downside to this,” King County Councilman Reagan Dunn said at the meeting.
Aside from one brief hearing on the Alpine Lakes bill, the House Natural Resources Committee has taken no action, and Hastings has said nothing. The prolonged inaction leaves the outward impression that Reichert can’t get anything done even with his fellow Republicans.
More than 900,000 acres of land in the Greenway now are publicly owned, including Tiger Mountain in the “Issaquah Alps” and Mt. Si, the state’s most popular hiking trail. A donation from Seattle philanthropist Patsy Bullitt Collins saved key riparian zones along the upper Yakima River.
“It is central to the Pacific Northwest’s history and through that America’s history, and with passage of this legislation we can ensure that the Greenway remains preserved for our children and grandchildren,” Reichert said in a statement.
Still, central to passage of Heritage legislation is that Hastings stop holding up bipartisan legislation beneficial to his state.