By Ann McCreary

A project that will groom 650 miles of snowmobile trails in the Okanogan Highlands that connect to Winthrop has received funding from the state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO).

The trail grooming is among 26 projects statewide that will receive $2.6 million grants for trails and parks, the RCO announced last week.

The grant to the Washington State Parks Winter Recreation Program will provide $53,790 to groom 16 Sno-Parks, nine staging areas and 650 miles of snowmobile trails in the Okanogan Highlands from Loup Loup Summit to Sherman Pass east of Republic, and to the westerly extent of the Methow Valley around Winthrop.

Crews will plow the Sno-Parks as needed and groom the trails at least weekly this winter and next winter. The area is the second-most popular snowmobile riding area in the state.

The snowmobile trail grooming is funded by federal money through the Recreational Trails Program, a program of the Federal Highway Administration. The projects announced last week all received only federal funding, because state funds administered by the RCO are unavailable due to the Legislature’s failure to pass a capital budget before adjourning in June.

Many of the projects seeking funding need a combination of state and federal funds to be fully implemented, said Susan Zemek of RCO. Numerous proposed local and regional recreation projects that sought state funds have received no funding at this point, because of the lack of a state capital budget. Among the unfunded projects are 18 in the Methow Valley and 29 countywide.

Proposed local projects include a request from Methow Trails to purchase equipment to improve trail maintenance and create fire breaks; several applications from the Methow Valley Ranger District for trail work, bridge construction, campground maintenance and climbing rangers; construction of a new mountain bike trail at Sun Mountain; and a project to thin and burn vegetation in the Methow Wildlife Area to improve habitat.

The capital budget was a casualty of a political stand-off in the Legislature over a state Supreme Court ruling, called the “Hirst” decision, regarding water for rural development. House Republicans refused to pass a capital budget when they didn’t get a chance to vote on a Senate bill that some thought would resolve the water issue.

The RCO provides funding for outdoor recreation throughout Washington. “Our population is growing and there is a need to create and improve places for people to recreate. It just makes sense to invest in outdoor recreation, which has so many other benefits,” said Kayleen Cottingham, RCO director.

She cited a recent study that found outdoor recreation generates $21.6 billion for Washington’s economy and supports nearly 200,000 jobs, rivaling technology and aerospace industries.