Grants are for recreation upgrades, land conservation
Okanogan County projects will receive $12,790,848 in grants from the state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) in 2021 — more than any other county in eastern Washington and less than only King and Pierce counties.
Of the 22 projects receiving grants in the county, 15 are located in the Methow Valley, totaling $9,731,606 in funding.
The largest of the Methow grants is also the largest grant in the county — a $2,594,003 award to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to buy 569 acres of land in the Methow Rapids Natural Area to include in the Methow Rapids Natural Area Preserve.
“The land contains the largest of only three intact examples of the smooth sumac/bluebunch wheatgrass community in the state and the largest of only nine intact examples of the antelope bitterbrush/bluebunch wheatgrass community in the state,” according to the RCO.
The land also is home to species of birds listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need by the WDFW’s state Wildlife Action Plan.
The area in question is along the Columbia River, downstream from the confluence with the Methow River.
“These grants are fundamental to keeping Washington the beautiful state it is,” said Gov. Jay Inslee in a news release. “The funding comes from state and federal sources and is invested in hundreds of projects to give our kids places to play, ensure our food is grown close to home and keep our green spaces healthy for wildlife.”
The RCO awarded 342 grants to organizations across the state totaling more than $164 million. The grants are matched by more than $221 million from grant applicants with cash, donations, staff time and equipment.
“The grants are very competitive,” said Megan Duffy, director of the RCO, which supports the funding board. “Every grant is evaluated by advisory committees made up of local residents and technical experts, Duffy said. “They rank the applications ensuring that the most needed and best projects rise to the top. That’s important because nearly 40% of the applications remain unfunded. There’s just an incredible need out there.”
The second-largest grant in the county is also for a Methow Valley project by the WDFW. The $1.9 million grant will go toward a project to conserve 110 acres of sagebrush-steppe and grassland surrounded by the Golden Doe Unit of the Methow Wildlife Area. The land is home to populations of mule deer, black bear, coyotes and golden eagles. The project would improve access to the area.
Another $1,140,000 grant awarded to Methow Conservancy would buy a conservation easement to protect 390 acres of land that has been used as a farm for the past century on Wolf Creek Road.
“The farm contains high-quality soils and senior water rights, which will be tied to the land forever as part of the agreement,” according to the RCO.
The conservancy plans to keep two farmsteads but prevent further development on the land, part of a Planned Destination Resort Zone. The conservancy will dedicate $1.1 million to the project.
Other projects include the following:
• Methow Trails was awarded $48,920 to develop a trailhead on Horizon Flats Road in Winthrop. The organization will contribute $145,000 to the project, and the grant is for the first year of a two-year award. Methow Trails plans to develop a trailhead on 18 acres on Horizon Flats Road as a hub of recreation, which will provide parking, a bathroom, visitor information and access to the Susie Stephens Trail, the Methow Community Trail and the proposed Twisp to Winthrop Trail, which would provide continuous trail access from Mazama to Twisp.
• The U.S. Forest Service was awarded $79,111 for the Methow Valley Ranger District to fund three employees and volunteers from the Northwest Motorcycle Association and other groups to maintain trails in the Sawtooth Backcountry and the Lightning-Beaver Creek drainages. The crews will repair trail surfaces, remove fallen trees and repair bridges. The Forest Service will contribute $54,965 in equipment, staff labor and donated labor.
• The Forest Service was awarded $200,000 for the Methow Valley Ranger District to fund two seasonal rangers, two AmeriCorps members or people from a similar program and volunteers to patrol high-use recreation areas for two seasons. Staff will educate visitors and enforce regulations in the North Cascades Scenic Corridor, Pasayten and Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness areas, Pacific Crest Trail and Pacific Northwest Trail. The Forest Service will contribute $203,411 to the project.
• The Forest Service was awarded $150,000 for the Methow Valley Ranger District to maintain 26 campgrounds, 30 trailheads, two picnic areas and the Washington Pass Scenic Outlook. The grant will fund crews to clean toilets and campsites, control weeds, remove hazardous trees and other maintenance. The Forest Service will contribute $274,984 to the project.
• The Forest Service was awarded $150,000 for the Methow Valley Ranger District to fund a four-person crew and pack support for two seasons to maintain trails in the Pasayten Wilderness, Lake Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness and surrounding backcountry areas. The Forest Service will contribute $154,345 to the project.
• The Forest Service was awarded $74,993 for the Methow Valley Ranger District to maintain summer trails in the Lake Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness, the Pasayten Wilderness and the Twisp River Drainage. The grant is for the first year of a two-year award. The Forest Service will contribute $152,022 to the project.
• WDFW was awarded $1,275,000 to buy 210 acres in the Rendezvous Unit next to the Big Valley Unit of the Methow Wildlife Area. The purchase is intended to protect “imperiled intermountain basins,” sagebrush steppe, ponderosa pine woodland and a wetland here amphibian species have been spotted, among other habitats. “Development pressures is constant in the Methow Valley and preserving connections between habitats for wide-ranging species is critical,” according to the RCO.
• WDFW was awarded $650,000 to buy 400 acres of sagebrush-steppe habitat on Hunter Mountain near Methow. The land includes a stream bank and ponderosa pine-Douglas fir populated areas that are home to woodpeckers. “These lands are popular for hunting, hiking and wildlife watching and conserving them will provide a better experience and make it easier to access bordering public lands,” according to the RCO.
• WDFW was awarded $325,000 to improve the Lewis Butte-Riser Lake Trailhead on Gunn Ranch Road, including replacing a toilet, making the start of the trail more accessible to people with disabilities and improving signs and trail markers.
• WDFW was awarded $122,931 to restore 212 acres of agricultural fields to native shrub-steppe in the Methow and Sinlahekin Wildlife areas. The two areas provide habitat for species dependent on shrub-steppe including sage thrashers, sagebrush sparrows, loggerhead shrikes, sagebrush lizards and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse.
• WDFW was awarded $880,000 to improve access at Patterson Lake. The project includes adding a concrete plank boat launch, boarding float, restroom and parking stalls for disabled visitors. The launch approach will be paved and new signage will be added. “The lake is a popular fishing spot for kokanee, tiger trout, small and largemouth bass, yellow perch and bluegill and for ice fishing in the winter,” according to the RCO.
• The Winthrop Rink was awarded $141,648 to replace perimeter dasher boards and safety glass at the facility, which is popular for winter hockey, recreational skating, and as a multi-use court for pickleball and roller skating in summer months. The rink will contribute $47,217 to the project.
In addition to the 22 grants assigned specifically to Okanogan County, two others are multi-county projects involving Okanogan.
The Forest Service’s Entiat Ranger District was awarded $200,000 to hire backcountry patrols for trails and trailheads in the Chelan, Entiat, Methow Valley and Wenatchee River Ranger Districts.
That project will pay for two seasonal rangers using off-highway vehicles to patrol about 300 miles of trails, seven campgrounds and 29 trailheads, according to the RCO. The grant will also fund four AmeriCorps volunteer backcountry rangers to patrol 155 miles of wilderness trails. The Forest Service will contribute $148,500 toward the program.
In a second multi-county grant award, Okanogan will join Jefferson, Pend Oreille, Skagit and Whatcom Counties in benefiting from a $75,000 grant to the Pacific Northwest Trail Association to hire trail crews to maintain the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. The association will contribute $150,000 in staff labor as its match for the grant.
Other Okanogan County projects
• Okanogan Land Trust — Conserving Anderson Forestland for sharp-tailed grouse, $86,880.
• Okanogan Land Trust — Conserving the Sunny Okanogan Angus Ranch in the Tunk Valley, $204,596.
• Okanogan Land Trust — conserving the Synarep Rangeland in the Tunk Valley, $527,301.
• Okanogan Land Trust — Conserving the Teas Ranch in the Okanogan Highlands, $109,265.
• Omak — Replacing the skatepark at Eastside Park, $350,000.
• WDFW — Conserving McLoughlin Falls West, $1,500,000.
• WDFW — Improving Access to the Similkameen River.
For a full list of grants and additional information on each, go to https://rco.wa.gov.