Washington State Invests in Our Great Outdoors
There has been lots of talk recently about the new state budget—but what does it mean for the Greenway region?
Washington State’s longest single-year legislative session in history wrapped up earlier this month with significant wins for recreation access and wildlife habitat across the state. The state’s new capital and operating budgets will invest more than $55 million across the Greenway landscape over the next two years.
This includes increased funding for Washington State Parks operations, projects that improve parks and heritage sites in communities across the Greenway, significant funding for the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, Puget SoundCorps on-the-ground conservation crews to carry out habitat restoration projects, and mapping systems to analyze geologic hazards.
The Legislature made laudable investments to develop and improve outdoor recreation in the state, funding projects in State Parks and Department of Natural Resources lands. Thanks to these agencies, Greenway residents and visitors will have access to several new trails and upgraded facilities.
Capital funding is now in place to repair the final two railway tunnels near Thorp in Iron Horse State Park. State Parks has been working for the past six years to fully repair five tunnels at Snoqualmie Pass, Easton, and Thorp on the historic former Milwaukee Road, which was once billed as the longest electrified railroad in the country. Today, visitors can walk, bike, cross-country ski, or ride a horse in this linear state park among farmlands, rugged mountains, unique tunnel passages, and dizzying views from historic trestles. Congratulations to State Parks for preserving these unique recreation features that are such a testament to our region’s rail history.
The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will build the first trail for hikers and mountain bikers into the Raging River State Forest, just south of the city of Snoqualmie. Much of this 10,000-acre state forest was conserved in 2009 by DNR and King County, and we applaud our state legislators who now supplement that effort by enabling public access into this forested river basin.
DNR will also invest in recreation enhancements in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley, a recreation mecca undergoing a transformation from a lawless, unsafe place, to spectacular destination offering everything from a riverside family picnic to backcountry wilderness expeditions. New trails and a trailhead to the Granite Lakes trail in the lower valley, the final section of Mailbox Peak, a new trailhead at Teneriffe Falls, river access at Champion Beach, and an interpretive trail at Oxbow Loop will be built to accommodate growing recreation use in this spectacular river valley.
The state’s busiest trailhead, High Point at Tiger Mountain, will see improvements including a newly-paved access road, thanks to Senator Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah.)
The new budget includes significant investment in forest health, with initiatives to slow damage from catastrophic wildfires, insects, and tree disease in our state forests. $10 million allocated to the Firewise program is a wise investment in future safety and security for both trees and people. We will continue to support such initiatives and future funding to maintain healthy, diverse forests across the state.
The Teanaway Community Forest will receive some funding for campground improvements, law enforcement, and weed control. We remain committed to encouraging significant future investment in the state’s first community forest, which spans a spectacular basin just north of Cle Elum. Given the state’s investment in purchasing the land in 2013, we will continue to support funding of recreation infrastructure and sustainable forest management for joint managers DNR and the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Transportation improvements to come
The state legislature also passed a comprehensive transportation revenue package, a plan three years in the making to fund major roads and bridges as well as transit, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure.
A first phase of the Mountains to Sound Greenway regional trail connection through Bellevue will build a separated, off-road trail connecting the I-90 floating bridge to Bellevue College, with safety features including flyover bridges to separate bikes from cars. Thanks to the City of Bellevue for investing in design of this critical east-west link through the rapidly urbanizing Eastgate neighborhood, and to the Washington State Department of Transportation for the trail corridor where it passes through the I-90 right-of-way.
Last but significantly not least, the transportation budget includes $426 million to complete the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project. This ongoing work expands 15 miles of National Scenic Byway on Interstate 90 from Hyak to Easton, which will be a six-lane highway with innovative crossing structures for wildlife passage over and under the freeway.