The Senate released their Capital Construction Budget for the 2023-2025 biennium today. Included was a record breaking $120 million in funding for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP).
This level matches the proposed funding level that the Governor brought forward late last year. It represents an all-time high level for the WWRP, providing an important and much needed investment in our environment and in our economy through the outdoor recreation sector.
“We are thrilled that the Senate has recognized the high demand for outdoor recreation opportunities and the conservation needed alongside it.” said Christine Mahler, Executive Director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. “We greatly appreciate the Senate matching the level proposed by the Governor. As the House deliberates, we strongly encourage them to meet or exceed this historic WWRP WWRC advocated for full funding of the WWRP in this round.
The onset of COVID-19 brought record numbers of Washingtonians outdoors, seeking the mental and physical health benefits that outdoor recreation provides. More than ever before, we recognize the importance of the outdoors to all Washingtonians. Unfortunately, Washington has already been lagging behind on investments in outdoor recreation when compared with demand, and this surge only served to highlight the existing and growing need. Additionally, the visible impacts of climate change, loss of habitat and culturally significant lands, and the ever-present growth in development have highlighted the need to invest in our environment and the ecosystems surrounding us.
This makes robust funding for the WWRP today more important than ever. WWRP projects not only create all kinds of outdoor opportunities for families across the state, but they preserve and restore wildlife habitat, mitigate the effects of climate change, and protect working lands.
The WWRP is the state’s premier grant program for habitat conservation and outdoor recreation opportunities. The program has played a significant role in our state’s landscape and quality of life, leveraging over $1.8 billion into state and local parks, trails, wildlife habitat, working lands, and other community priorities across the state. Funding is allocated via a nationally-recognized, impartial ranking process.
However, we recognize that impartial ranking processes do not always produce equitable outcomes. We once again thank the Governor and the Legislature for allocating funding in 2021 for an Equity Review of the WWRP and other grant programs. This review was completed last year, and we have been partnering with the Recreation and Conservation Office in first steps towards implementing the recommendations.
To begin this equity-focused work, we were happy to see the Senate matched the Governor’s budget to include $5 million in additional funding for recreation planning grants for underserved communities. However, we call on the House to push this funding level even higher, fully funding the list at $10 million for these critical grants that will fund many communities that have not received an RCO grant in the past ten years.
The Equity Review of RCO grant programs highlighted that planning for recreation opportunities is a major capacity challenge for many communities, especially urban communities of color and small, rural communities. Setting the precedent that equitable opportunities in Washington matter through this funding will put our State on the forefront of equity and truly highlight our leadership on these access issues.
“The WWRP has always been intended to serve all Washingtonians, and we are excited about the ongoing work to improve the equity of the program and other grant programs,” said Christine Mahler, Executive Director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. “We were especially encouraged by the Planning for Recreation Access Grants statistics that of the 99 applicants, three quarters hadn’t received grants with RCO in the past decade, and around half hadn’t applied for an RCO grant during that time! Funding opportunities like this in our state is critical towards the future success of outdoor recreation.”
At $120 million, the budget would fund 106 WWRP projects across the state, including:
- Acquisition of Bighorn Ridge, a rare opportunity to acquire over 134 acres of land to expand outdoor recreation access, preserve threatened habitats and provide critical trail linkages to a growing and underserved part of the Wenatchee valley.
- Acquisition of 16 parcels, totaling approximately 105 acres, in King County near Black Diamond by WA State Parks. State Parks plans for the Conservation Area include a trail along the south rim of the gorge, from Kanaskat-Palmer State Park to Flaming Geyser State Park. This acquisition will also protect habitat corridors between the Green River and properties in King County’s Bass Lake Complex to the south.
- Development of a public Skatepark and Pump Track in the heart of town at Druzianich Park in the City of Westport. The facility, designed by Grindline Skateparks Inc, will challenge individuals of all skill levels using wheeled recreational devices. This facility will be the first of its kind in the rural coastal community of Westport, filling a need for an outdoor space where the children of our community can enjoy activities such as skateboarding, rollerblading, biking, and scooters.
And, at $5 million, the Planning for Recreation Access Grants would fund projects like:
- Funding the balance of engineering, design and permitting required to build a Gathering Plaza and expanded parking lot including an Ishigaki wall (Japanese dry-laid stone retaining wall) at Kubota Garden. Kubota Garden is a free Japanese garden in Rainier Beach, a diverse neighborhood in SE Seattle where 31% of people are immigrants, 75% are people of color, and 25% live in in poverty.
- Funding to complete the planning needed for the redevelopment of Cloney Park, located in Longview, Washington in Cowlitz County. Cloney Park is located in an underserved area with a high-percentage of low-moderate income households, and the aging playground and skatepark are past their estimated lifespan.
However, increasing the funding to Full Funding will include additional projects of local import to communities across the state, including:
- Completing the development of an existing 8,000 square foot, above-ground skate park in Cathlamet, Washington, regularly used by school users and surrounding neighbors. Located in an underserved area with limited outdoor recreational opportunities, volunteers raised nearly $31,500 in donations and local support in 2004 and 2006 to build the existing concrete slab and skating equipment.
- Improvements to trailhead facilities at Lacamas Creek trailhead on the south end of Lacamas Lake Regional Park. The improvements will include paved parking, restroom building, ADA accessible pathways, picnic areas, signage, landscaping, and stormwater improvements.
And, at $5 million, the following Planning for Recreation Access Grants would remain unfunded:
- Funding for the Town of Eatonville to develop a comprehensive parks, recreation and trails plan that will allow the town to be eligible in future RCO grant rounds for recreation grants. Eatonville is a rural community has very little resources to be able to do this type of planning work. Developing more recreation opportunities, especially those that allow people to visit some of the beautiful natural areas such as the Mashel River, would be a valuable contribution to local public health and the economy.
- Funding for the White Salmon Valley School District to conduct program management, community engagement and facilitation, and permitting to remodel an outdated playground shared by the Wallace and Priscilla Intermediate School (WPSIS) and Henkle Middle School (HMS). This outdoor recreation opportunity will serve a population of students of whom 47% are characterized as low income and 40% of students are people of color.
About the WWRC
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition is committed to creating a greener, healthier, more equitable, and better Washington for all through community outreach, network building, and advocacy for conservation and outdoor recreation funding. The WWRC is Washington’s chief advocate for local conservation and recreation projects across the state. Over thirty years ago, the Coalition led the creation of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP), and remains its chief independent nonprofit advocate and partner to this day. For more information, contact Andres Guerrero-Guzman at andres@WildlifeRecreation.org.
About the WWRP
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) is our state’s premier conservation and recreation grant program which provides matching funds to create new local and state parks, protect wildlife habitat, and preserve working lands.