State funds support trails, campgrounds, preservation
Okanogan County projects will receive more than $3 million in grants through the state Recreation and Conservation Funding Board, the board announced last week. The grants include several major projects in the Methow Valley and adjacent areas.
Altogether, the state allotted $126 million for 333 projects throughout the state that are intended to build and maintain outdoor recreational facilities, and conserve wildlife habitat and working farms and forests.
The monies are familiarly known as RCO grants, for the Recreation and Conservation Office, which administers the grants. Recipients are chosen based on a comprehensive application and review process which includes priority rankings for funding. Most recipients are required to provide matching funds or in-kind contributions.
“The funding creates more places to play, expands habitat for fish and other wildlife, supports clean air and water, and upholds healthy communities across Washington state and improves our quality of life,” said Kaleen Cottingham, RCO director, in a press release
“Not only do these grants support our state’s parks, forests and farms, but they also fuel a powerful outdoor recreation economy that puts about 200,000 people to work and generates more than $26 billion in spending every year,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “At a time when public lands are more and more at risk of being developed or lost altogether, these grants prioritize our outdoor spaces so that current and future generations can continue to enjoy and protect them.”
The total grant amount is determined by the state Legislature as part of the state’s biennial budget. With the Legislature’s recent approval of the capital budget, grants are being distributed to cities, counties, state and federal agencies, tribal governments and nonprofit organizations for projects in 37 of the state’s 39 counties.
The grants were awarded through seven different funding sources. Revenue comes from a mix of federal grants, the sale of state bonds, gas taxes and user fees.
Here’s an overview of projects funded in or adjacent to Okanogan County:
• The Town of Winthrop was awarded $488,000 to help purchase 139 acres of open space adjacent to the town in the Heckendorn neighborhood. The purchase fulfills a goal of protecting undeveloped land and ensuring public access to a network of walking trails across an iconic shrub-steppe hillside. With the threat of a sale looming, the Methow Conservancy purchased the land until Winthrop could get funding to buy it for a public park. Following the acquisition, Winthrop will work in partnership with the Methow Conservancy and Methow Trails to develop access, parking and a network of walking trails on the land. Winthrop will contribute $326,900 in private grant and donations of cash and property interest, or 40%, toward the $814,900 project.
• The Methow Conservancy was awarded $427,319 for preserving farmland near Twisp. The Methow Conservancy will use the grant to buy 2,180 acres in the Twisp Uplands — Lehman Uplands Phase II and Nysether — to protect shrub-steppe, streambank and wetland habitat; conserve mule deer and at-risk species; and maintain seasonal wildlife corridors while allowing private landowners to continue to farm the land. Without easement protection, the landowners likely would subdivide and sell their lands for residential development. The Conservancy will contribute $2,056,622 (83%) toward the $2,483,951 project.
• The U.S. Forest Service was awarded $63,404 to help maintain the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail. The Methow Valley Ranger District will use the grant to continue to replace equipment and maintain the trail in the Pasayten Wilderness. Work will include clearing trails, repairing trail surfaces, controlling erosion, and repairing trail sections damaged by fire. In 2009, Congress designated the Pacific Northwest Trail as a national scenic trail. The Methow Valley Ranger District maintains 85 miles of this trail. Remote crews, supported by pack stock and using traditional wilderness tools, do most of the work. The Forest Service will contribute $145,380, or 70%, toward the $208,784 project.
• The Forest Service was awarded $111,747 to help develop the North Summit Horse Camp. The Methow Valley Ranger District will use the grant to work in conjunction with Back Country Horsemen to complete the second phase of the North Summit Horse Camp development, on Loup Loup Pass between the Okanogan and Methow valleys. The project would include adding six pull-through campsites (to the six campsites already developed), toilet facilities, picnic shelter, water for stock, cow fencing, manure bunkers, and graveling. The finished campground will be one of two equine-focused campgrounds and picnic areas in the area with facilities to accommodate equine. The ranger district will contribute $48,135, or 30%, toward the $159,882 project.
• The Forest Service was awarded $95,674 for a program to educate climbers in the Methow Valley. The Methow Valley Ranger District will use the grant to fund two climbing rangers and two volunteer climbing rangers. The rangers will educate climbers about environmental stewardship, determine educational needs, collect use and resource data, identify environmental impacts, enforce regulations, and continue to build relationships in the community and with climbing organizations. One of the premiere and most popular climbing areas in the state, the district has more than 400 published climbing routes at 64 different areas. The Forest Service will contribute $95,888 toward the $191,562 project, or about a 50-50 split.
• The Forest Service was awarded $150,000 for maintaining Methow Valley campgrounds. The Methow Valley Ranger District in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest will use this grant to fund four seasonal employees and expenses for seven volunteer campground hosts to clean and maintain 23 campgrounds spread across the district. The employees and volunteers will maintain all campground facilities, roads, pathways, picnic tables, fire grates, water systems, signs, dumpsters, and outhouses. The grant also will pay to monitor noxious weeds, remove hazardous trees, and enforce regulations as well as buy cleaning supplies, maintenance tools and materials, and toilet paper. The Forest Service will contribute $224,783, or 60 percent, toward the $374,783 project.
• The Forest Service was awarded $140,000 for maintaining trails in the northern Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The Tonasket Ranger District will use the grant to maintain multiple-use trails in its and the nearby Methow Valley Ranger District, which provide opportunities for motorcycling, all-terrain vehicle riding, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Duties would include clearing and repairing trails and bridges, updating signs, and implementing minor trail reroutes. This project will help address deferred maintenance and ensure continued public access. The ranger district will contribute $62,610, or 31%, toward the $202,610 project.
• The Forest Service was awarded $149,984 for maintaining trails in the Methow Valley Ranger District, which will use the grant to fund a full-time, four-person trail crew to maintain trails in the Pasayten Wilderness, Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness, North Cascades Scenic Highway corridor, and surrounding backcountry areas for two years. Work will include taking out downed trees, repairing trail tread, addressing areas of standing water and other maintenance. The primary recreation opportunities this project supports are hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. The ranger district will contribute $150,980, or 50%, toward the $300,964 project.
• The Forest Service was awarded $198,938 for patrolling the Methow Valley and Tonasket Ranger Districts. The grant will fund three seasonal rangers, two interns and community volunteers to educate visitors about leaving the area the way they found it and to enforce regulations. Patrols will travel by foot or stock and focus on popular areas in the North Cascades Scenic Corridor, Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness areas, and the Pacific Crest Trail. The Forest Service will contribute $216,359, or 52 percent, toward the $451,297 project.
• The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) was awarded $223,000 for renovating the Blue Lake water access site about 5 miles southwest of Oroville. The department will renovate the hand-launch area and parking, build pathways, and install a fishing platform, toilet, signs, barrier rocks, and wood fences. The site is used for boating, wildlife viewing, and fishing. This grant is from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. The project is 100% percent funded by RCO.
• WDFW was awarded $92,400 for restoring Scotch Creek to improve grouse habitat in the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area, in Okanogan County. The Columbian sharp-tailed grouse is listed as a species threatened with extinction by the state, and exists in only seven isolated and small populations in Washington, with the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area being one of those places. The grouse eat water birch in the winter and the department wants to establish birch along the creek. The department will install beaver dam analogs to raise the water table and allow the creek to meander and collect sediment into the creek’s incised channel. The project is 100% RCO-funded.
• The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation were awarded a $93,750 grant for design of a boat launch at Nicholson Beach at the north end of Omak Lake. The tribes will use this grant to design and permit a boat launch at the undeveloped Nicholson Beach at the north end of the. The largest saltwater lake in Washington, Omak Lake is a unique natural area, with almost no surrounding development. The tribes will contribute $31,250, or 25%, for the $125,000 project.
• The Okanogan Land Trust was awarded $729,363 for conserving rangeland, a preservation agreement for 2,691 acres of the Ellis Barnes Livestock Company’s land, which will restrict future development. The land includes wetlands that provide habitat for waterfowl, cavity-nesting ducks, and Chinook salmon. The Barnes family began assembling this ranch in 1924 and incorporated it in 1929, making it one of the oldest in Okanogan County. Okanogan Land Trust will also contribute $729,364 in a 50-50 match for the $1,458,728 project.
Other grants that may affect Okanogan County or the valley:
• The Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance was awarded $37,500 for maintaining eastern Washington trails. The alliance will use the grant to support more than 10,000 volunteer hours to maintain more than 200 miles of non-motorized trails and 120 miles of motorized trails in eastern Washington.
• The Back Country Horsemen of Washington were awarded $51,245 for restoring trails damaged by wildfires, flooding and windstorms. The group will use the grant to organize three large volunteer events to work on damaged national forest trails. The group plans to start with trails impacted from the 2018 Crescent Fire near Twisp, with five other areas to target in consultation with U.S. Forest Service staff. Back Country Horsemen of Washington will contribute $300,000 in labor.