By Gary Schalla
As we approach the holiday season, there is no better time than now to start thinking about the state budget.
Don’t believe me? We have a fast-approaching opportunity to secure abundant gifts for our children and grandchildren if our elected officials commit robust funding for the outdoors.
The counties of North Central Washington join many other communities across 33 counties asking for state grants to complete more than 200 projects ranging from protecting hunting and fishing access, improving our state parks, preserving working farms and building trails and neighborhood playgrounds.
Across the region, proposed projects include creating an outdoor education area at Saddle Rock, providing critical connections along the Wenatchee Foothills Trail System, Riverside Access Site Development providing public boat access to the river, preserving farmland in Okanogan and Ferry Counties, creating a community trail in Twisp, and completing the Ferry County Rail Trail.
This short list alone shows the broad range of needs we must address to protect our natural heritage. Washingtonians need open spaces to pursue traditional sports like hunting and fishing; they need clean waterways; they need access to trails; they need local parks where their kids’ little league can play.
To bring these projects to fruition, we need Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Legislature to commit robust funding to the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP).
Funds for the WWRP come from the capital construction budget, not the operating budget, so we don’t have to choose between funding the outdoors and funding essential services like law enforcement or teachers’ salaries.
In June, the WWRP’s primary advocate, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, requested that Gov. Inslee support funding the WWRP at $97 million to reflect growing need and maximize economic benefits of the outdoors.
The WWRP is government at its best: our taxpayer dollars coming back to us and reinvesting in our communities in ways that will continue to pay off for our kids and grandkids. But if that isn’t enough to convince you, the outdoors are big business too.
An average two-thirds of Washingtonians participate in outdoor recreation each year. That means that not only are they camping or hopping in the boat, they are also spending money in locally owned businesses along the way.
Outdoor recreation spurs $22.5 billion in consumer spending in our state each year, supporting 227,000 jobs. The outdoors also act as a significant quality-of-life attractor for highly skilled workers who want to raise their families next to our pristine rivers, lakes and mountains.
The outdoors are an essential part of our infrastructure. We live here because it means we can catch a glimpse of the Cascades, Lake Chelan, the Okanogan and Columbia Rivers, and wide open scenic expanses on our drive to work and easily get to our region’s many parks and trails on the weekends. Parks and trails here in North Central Washington are accessible mornings, evenings, and weekends.
The WWRP has already invested nearly $200 million in Central Washington, funding some of our most well-loved and iconic places like Peshastin Pinnacles, the Iron Horse Trail, Methow Valley trails, the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink, and more.
As more people are attracted to our region’s vast recreational opportunities and the surrounding natural areas, it is critical that we continue to invest in our outdoors. Demand will continue to increase for access to our outdoors and committing robust funding to the WWRP this year is the proactive approach we need to maintain our quality of life.
Gary Schalla lives in Tonasket.