Several weeks ago, Washington state representatives of District 9—Rep. Mary Dye and Rep. Joe Schmick—announced their intent to introduce legislation in January that would not only close a section of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, but give away the state-owned trail corridor to adjacent landowners. The section in question lies in eastern Washington, extending approximately 130 miles from Malden to the Columbia River.
Reps. Dye and Schmick assert they are responding to concerns voiced by local landowners who say that a lack of trail maintenance to clear weeds and maintain fences is a problem. There are legitimate issues with poor trail maintenance, which largely stems from a lack of funding by the state legislature to address it.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission (PRC) as well as the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are responsible for maintenance on eastern segments of the trail, but the PRC budget has dwindled in recent years due to the state legislature’s cuts of 90.5 percent in general fund allocations from the 2007-09 budget to the 2013-15 budget.
PRC has increased revenue—from Discover Passes, campsites and advertising—by a dramatic 117 percent to cover the shortfall, but even then, they are operating with less than they were eight years ago. This means they are unable to employ a ranger to monitor the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, and identify and address the types of maintenance problems that Rep. Schmick references. The John Wayne Pioneer Trail is not the only trail that is suffering from a lack of funding; trails and parks across the state are not being maintained due to insufficient funding.
We know that trails can become economic engines for small towns as riders pass through for dining, accommodations and other trip-related amenities. A January 2015 report by Earth Economics for the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office states that recreational bicycling alone in Washington generates $3 billion in trip-related expenditures, not including equipment purchases. Time and time again, we’ve seen trails around the country provide jobs, support small businesses, and reinvigorate local communities. Rather than close the trail, a smart investment in maintenance and improvements for the John Wayne Pioneer Trail could provide big wins for Washington’s economy.
Reps. Dye and Schmick met with trail users, landowners, concerned citizens and trail groups, including the Tekoa Trestle and Trail Association led by Ted Blaszak, in Tekoa, Washington, this past Wednesday to discuss the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Passionate trail users spoke up in support of the trail. During the meeting, Rep. Schmick proposed forming a committee comprising land owners and trail users to study the issue. Trail users agreed, and a committee will be formed to study the issue and provide recommendations to legislators, expected by December before the next legislative session in January. By the end of the meeting, it seemed that the idea of closing and giving away the trail was put on hold—for now.
Over the next few months, it will be important for trail supporters to speak up and make their voices heard. RTC is working with our partners in Washington and following this issue closely. We will be sure to keep you updated, especially when the legislative session begins in January.