OPINION: Our outdoors need continued investment —

OPINION: Our outdoors need continued investment

By Garry Schalla
Spokesman Review

The Inland Northwest needs comprehensive solutions to ensure the high-quality outdoor access we have come to expect.

Spokane joins many other communities across 33 counties asking for state grants to complete more than 200 projects ranging from preserving working farms to protecting hunting and fishing access, improving our state parks, and building trails and neighborhood playgrounds.

Locally, proposed projects include creating new boating access along the Kettle River near Curlew, walking trails around Audubon Lake outside Reardan, expanding Prairie View Park, and creating adaptive baseball fields at Mission Park so players of all abilities can enjoy their sport.

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 Legislature to commit robust funding to the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.

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 Inslee support funding the WWRP at $97 million to reflect the growing need and to maximize the economic benefits of the outdoors.

The WWRP is government at its best: Our taxpayer dollars coming back to us and reinvesting in our community in ways that will continue to pay off for our kids and grandkids. But if that isn’t enough to convince you, the outdoors is big business, too.

An average of two-thirds of Washingtonians participate in outdoor recreation each year. That means that not only are they camping or hopping in the boat, they also are 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 acts 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 is an essential part of our infrastructure. We live here because it means we can catch a glimpse of Mount Spokane on our drive to work, and easily get to our region’s many parks and trails on the weekends. Parks and trails in Spokane are accessible mornings, evenings and weekends. You can walk to them or make them a destination.

The WWRP has already invested $14 million in Spokane County alone, funding work on some of our most well-loved and iconic places: construction on the Centennial Trail, expansion of Mt. Spokane State Park, preservation along the Little Spokane River, and dozens of other projects.

As more people are attracted to Spokane and the surrounding area, 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 next year is the proactive approach we need to maintain our quality of life.

Garry Schalla is executive director of the Inland Northwest Land Trust.

Read the complete story at Spokesman Review
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