As reporter Lynda Mapes described in the Seattle Times this week, popular state parks throughout Washington are in a grim state of disrepair.
The Mountains to Sound Greenway is home to seven beloved state parks. Squak Mountain State Park features quiet, forested trails for hikers and equestrians just south of Issaquah. But budget cuts leave trails that need significant maintenance after winter storm damage.
Lake Sammamish State Park entices swimmers, boaters, bird watchers, naturalists and sports teams outdoors to enjoy this 500-acre park in urban Issaquah on the shores of Lake Sammamish. Outdated facilities, poor water quality and infestations of weeds make this lake less than pristine.
Bridle Trails State Park is a small park near the urban area of Kirkland that is known for its horse trails and equestrian shows. St. Edward State Park has slippery, muddy trails to the beach on Lake Washington as well as historic buildings that need an infusion of new life. And Olallie State Park is home to popular Twin Falls, with hillside erosion and a backlog of trail maintenance.
With views of the Cascades and plenty of hiking trails to explore in the summer as well as cross country and snowmobiling trails to enjoy in the winter, Lake Easton State Park is a popular destination about halfway between Snoqualmie Pass and Cle Elum, with aging facilities as well.
And the John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Iron Horse State Park serves as the backbone of the regional trail system in the Mountains to Sound Greenway as it travels more than 100 miles, from Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend, and heads east across Washington State. This former railway follows the historic Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific rail line which was built in 1887 as the longest electrified railroad in the country with a direct line to Seattle.Today, visitors can walk, bicycle, cross country ski or ride a horse in linear Iron Horse State Park among broad farmlands and ranches, rugged mountain views, unique tunnel passages and aerial views from historic railway trestles. But this cross-state trail is currently impassable.
In 2009, Washington State Parks conducted a safety review of falling debris hazards in five tunnels along the Iron Horse. As a result, all five tunnels between Snoqualmie Pass and Ellensburg were closed to the public. In 2011 after significant repair work, the popular 2.3-mile Snoqualmie Tunnel reopened at Snoqualmie Pass to public celebration. State Parks is currently working to repair tunnels #48 and 49 near Easton.
But tunnels #46 and 47 just west of Thorp remain closed to the public, effectively closing a 15-mile stretch of trail between Thorp and South Cle Elum. This section of trail runs through the spectacular Yakima River Canyon and sweeping desert grasslands of Central Washington. A gap in the trail is a significant loss for people seeking recreation in Upper Kittitas County, and has a negative impact on the nearby communities and businesses that rely on tourism.The nonprofit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy says that repairing the currently closed tunnels would return trail-based tourism revenue to nearby communities. Studies of comparable rail-trails elsewhere in America have revealed an economic impact of between $10 million and $40 million per year, depending on the length of the trail and number of commercial operations nearby, much of it coming through lodging and food expenditure.
Given this significant return on investment, it is time to invest in our state park system and preserve the natural and historic treasures of our state, before it is too late.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Buy a Discover Pass each year to visit your state parks. Give Discover Passes as gifts, and encourage your friends to buy them too.
- Contact your state legislator in support of Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program funding, the state’s largest funding source for park projects.
- Contribute $5 to state parks when you renew your vehicle license tabs.
- Donate to the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, which will fund our ability to do projects such as ecological restoration at Lake Sammamish or tree planting at Lake Easton.
- Donate to the Washington State Parks Foundation, a private nonprofit that funds improvement projects in state parks.