MT. BAKER-SNOQUALMIE NATIONAL FOREST – Against the backdrop of one of Washington’s most popular trails Monday, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Jewel Bronaugh unveiled $503 million in new funding for recreational infrastructure in outdoors under the Great American Outdoors Act.
Speaking at the start of the Franklin Falls Trail in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest before embarking on a hike to the waterfall, one of the busiest trails in the state, Bronaugh announced the creation of the Legacy Restoration Fund, a pot of federal money intended to clear the backlog of deferred maintenance projects on US public lands. The fund will receive an injection of $285 million for 450 projects in 38 states and Puerto Rico.
“This administration is a champion of outdoor recreation and public access,” Bronaugh said at the trailhead, which draws 1,500 visitors daily on summer weekends. With the new funding, the parking lot at the trailhead will be expanded by 100 spaces. “Outdoor recreation is such a vital part of our economy, especially our rural economy,” she said.
For hikers in western Washington, the announcement means short-term pain for long-term gain. Three popular trails will temporarily close this summer.
The trail to Annette Lake will close June 15 and the popular trails to Snow Lake and Source Lake will close July 16 for much-needed maintenance funded by this federal project. These water bodies are some of the most popular destinations in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, which required improvements to combat erosion on trails that were not designed for such heavy foot traffic.
Work on these trails is expected to be completed in October.
“These projects at Snoqualmie Pass are a perfect example of why this funding is so needed and how the Great American Outdoors Act benefits recreation enthusiasts,” said Betsy Robblee, director of conservation for The Mountaineers.
Bronaugh chose Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest to make the announcement because of what she called an exceptionally “productive” relationship between the U.S. Forest Service and local partners to accomplish necessary maintenance of recreational infrastructure. outdoors. The Mountains to Sound Greenway project, which will improve trailheads, campgrounds and trails along the Interstate 90 corridor visited by 1.5 million people annually, was funded to the tune of $21.1 million dollars in fiscal years 2021 and 2022.
Under the Great American Outdoors Act model, the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest will coordinate this work, as 90% of the projects funded by the legislation will be carried out by private contractors and nonprofit conservation organizations. These partners have expressed concerns about the Forest Service’s ability to handle the administrative workload brought about by hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding.
“The incredible demand and public pressure on our public lands is compounded by a long-standing decline in the staffing and capacity of agencies like the Forest Service that are responsible for these lands,” said Jon Hoekstra, executive director of Mountains to Sound. Greenway Trust. According to Debbie Hollen, acting deputy chief of the National Forest System, the US Forest Service has seen its non-firefighter workforce decline by 40% over the past decade.
“We are working with Congress to prioritize funding increases to not only the USDA but also the Department of the Interior to try to not only increase salaries and benefits for our Forest Service personnel, but also to increase numbers and improve hiring so we can bring in earlier, but that will take time,” Bronaugh told the Seattle Times.
The remaining $218 million announced on Monday will add additional funds to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Led by Senator Henry M. Jackson of Washington, the LWCF has funded conservation, recreation or access projects nationwide since its founding in 1964, supporting access to public lands for hiking, biking , bird watching, fishing, hunting and all other ways of outdoor recreation. .
In Washington State, the fund has funded more than 700 projects, investing more than $725 million in trails across the state as well as local city parks, such as Seattle’s Gas Works Park, improvements to Green Lake boathouse and more.
Environmental journalist Lynda Mapes contributed to this report.