Signed agreements between the USDA Forest Service and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust mark the beginning of the conservation legislation’s impact close to home.
In August 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) was officially signed into law, marking a historic investment in America’s public lands. The legislation permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and inaugurated the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, which supports deferred maintenance and repairs in national parks, national forests and other federal lands.
Interest in outdoor recreation continues to grow rapidly within the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area (Greenway NHA), the 1.5-million-acre landscape spanning from Seattle to Ellensburg along Interstate-90. As public agency budgets and staff shrink and the population grows, the backlog of much-needed maintenance for trails and recreation areas has increased dramatically. The GAOA offers part of the solution to this maintenance backlog for public land management agencies, and will benefit all people who live, work, and play in the Greenway NHA and in federal public lands across the country.
Congresswoman Kim Schrier from Washington’s 8th Congressional District is a strong supporter of the Great American Outdoors Act:
“We are fortunate to live in a state full of natural beauty, with some of the best parks and recreation areas our country has to offer right in my district. While many Washingtonians enjoy these public spaces today, we must do everything we can now to ensure that they are just as vibrant for generations to come. The investments included in the GAOA will get us much closer to this important goal. I’m delighted to see this agreement between USFS and Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust to make the vision of GAOA a reality here in the 8th district,” said Rep. Schrier.
Within the Greenway NHA, signed agreements are now in place between the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest for a package of projects within the broader “Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area Multi-Asset Investment Corridor”, a collaborative proposal put forth by the two national forests.
The package includes much-needed maintenance and improvements at popular locations such as Denny Creek and Franklin Falls, Annette Lake, Snow Lake, the new Pratt Bar trail in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley, Asahel Curtis Nature Trail, and more. Forest Service staff have also requested the addition of bear proof food storage containers, fire rings, and fee tubes for popular campgrounds including Tinkham, and Wish Poosh; road improvements and a new gatehouse for Kachess Campground; trail maintenance work on and near the Pacific Crest Trail; and funding to support youth conservation corps crews, volunteers, and nonprofit partners to help tackle significant maintenance projects. The many different projects will be completed by a mix of nonprofit partners, including the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, Washington Trails Association, National Older Worker Career Center, contractors, designers, construction firms, volunteers, conservation corps, and others.
“Partners, stakeholders, and user groups are essential to achieving the Forest Service’s infrastructure goals which is why we are pleased to have this agreement with Greenway Trust,” said Jody Weil, Forest Supervisor of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. “We are excited to make this progress working with partners, communities, and the public.”
Outdoor recreation contributes more than $26 billion to the Washington State economy each year, and the positive impacts of the GAOA extend far beyond the on-the-ground improvements. Enhanced recreational access has positive benefits for nearby communities, stretching from Seattle to the smaller cities and towns that are the gateways to recreational destinations, where visitors often stop to purchase food, supplies, or find lodging along their journey.
“Our business depends on having safe, clean, accessible trails within the Greenway NHA,” said Luke Talbott, CEO and Founder of Compass Outdoor Adventures, a local guide service and outdoor event organizer. “It’s really great to see this much-needed investment being made in our public lands.”
The Greenway Trust estimates that at least 39 jobs will be directly supported by “Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area Multi-Asset Recreation Investment Corridor” projects. This collaboration will also indirectly support numerous other jobs, such as manufacturers of picnic tables and prefabricated trailhead restroom facilities; delivery drivers; operators creating or providing raw materials (such as lumber, steel, and gravel or rock); and other positions.
The GAOA is a vital step toward restoring and maintaining our beloved public lands. But even with this historic level of funding, National Parks and National Forests are hampered by a lack of funding for regular operations and maintenance and need continued advocacy and support.
So what can individuals do to help care for these public lands?
“We encourage everyone to take an active role in creating healthy and sustainable public lands, by volunteering, donating, recreating responsibly, thanking park rangers and maintenance staff, respecting others and the landscape, and rallying in support of future legislative efforts like the GAOA and LWCF,” said Jon Hoekstra, Executive Director for the Greenway Trust.
“USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.”