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Old 06-03-2009, 08:51 PM
jim putman's Avatar
jim putman jim putman is offline
Washington State Director
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: puyallup wa.
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Posting for Arlene.


Saturday, May 16, 2009 1:16 PM PDT


State budget crunch hits trail users

staff writer

CLE ELUM — Traveling trails in the Cle Elum Ranger District is likely to get a little rougher this summer and in the following two years — but not because the ranger district wants it that way.

The state funding crisis will cost the district most of the money it receives for summer trail maintenance, education and enforcement, Trails, Wilderness and ORV Manager Tim Foss said.

That’s because money from a grant funding source called the Non-Highway and Off-Road Vehicle Account (NOVA) has been transferred to the state general fund and will be used to keep state parks open.

The money comes from a portion of the gas tax and off-road-vehicle registration. The state accepts applications from cities, counties, non-profit groups and federal agencies to spend the money on outdoor recreation.

“Many Forest Service Ranger Districts, including Cle Elum, have gotten a substantial portion of our funding from NOVA,” Foss said. “Cle Elum is probably the most successful in the state. We have about $500,000 in NOVA grants we’re spending right now.

“The reason we’ve been successful, I think, is this district has the highest trail use in the state. The higher the use, the higher the maintenance needs and the greater the need to get out and do enforcement.”

The grants fund roughly 70 percent of the ranger district’s costs for summer trail and dispersed camping area (outside regular campgrounds) maintenance as well as education and enforcement.

In 2009, for example, the NOVA grants to the Cle Elum Ranger District fund about $200,000 in motorized trail maintenance, about $110,000 in non-motorized trail maintenance and about $105,000 in education and enforcement.

But that funding will change dramatically in 2010 and 2011.

“The state, facing a fiscal crisis in the last legislative session, decided to take the NOVA money which has been available for recreation grants since the 1970s and spend it on state parks which are woefully underfunded,” Foss said. “The money that would have been available to us in 2010 and 2011 is gone.”

The result, he said, is “people will see less maintenance this year and the situation will get a lot worse over the next two years.”

The Cle Elum Ranger District normally hires 23 seasonal employees to help clear trails and provide other services. Some of those positions will go empty this year in an effort to conserve funding for next year.

“We’re going to do everything possible to put some of that money aside to spend next year. That said, there’s no way we can save half of it,” he said.

“We’re going to do everything possible to put some of that money aside to spend next year. That said, there’s no way we can save half of it,” he said.

As for hiring next summer, “right now it looks like zero,” he said, though he hopes by being conservative this year he can fill “three or four spots” next year.

“By doing less trail maintenance this year we’ll have some funding next year,” he said. “We’re not just talking about clearing trails. We’re talking about fixing problems. Already this year we’ve found trails and bridges washed out by flooding. Next year we won’t be able to fix them. The few people we’ll have will have to deal with high priority safety issues.

“One of the real worries is if we sustain two years of trail damage because there’s no maintenance it may take 10 years to get those trails fixed back up.”

Forest Service campgrounds are run by a concessionaire, and Foss said he believes those won’t be impacted. But the Forest Service won’t be able to provide portable toilets and garbage pick-up at dispersed camping sites (areas outside regular campgrounds).

Staffing cuts mean “there’s going to be a lot less enforcement, a lot less of us out there to sort out problems between campers,” Foss said. Things like people riding motorized vehicles without spark arresters, “mudding” or running motorized vehicles up hillsides, having illegal campfires or going places that aren’t legal like taking a motorcycle on a horse trail or an ATV on a motorcycle trail invite confrontation.

“Keeping it under control keeps peace in the woods,” he said.

Changes in maintenance levels will be obvious even this year, he said.

“Probably most hiker-only trails aren’t going to be cleared — logged out to remove downed trees — this year,” he said. “Hikers are going to be scrambling over logs.”

Foss said the Cle Elum Ranger District is going to have to depend on volunteers “to step up and keep doing what they’ve been doing” in terms of trail maintenance.

State Rep. Bill Hinkle (R-Cle Elum) echoed that theme.

“It’s not going to be good,” said Hinkle, who opposed raiding the NOVA fund. “It’s cut a lot of maintenance dollars for trails and that’s not good. This is the most active ranger district in the state. I don’t expect the federal government kicking money in. It’s going to put greater demand on volunteers to keep trails open.

“I just hope some of the agencies aren’t going to close trails altogether.”

Elizabeth Lunney, executive director of the Washington Trails Association (WTA), a hiker advocacy organization, said, “The impacts are going to be significant.

“We were very disappointed to see it happen. We lobbied to preserve the program. But the Legislature, particularly the House, was pretty intent on raiding it.”

Lunney said the biggest impacts will be on the U.S. Forest Service and the state Department of Natural Resources because both agencies depend on the funding for maintenance and operations.

“Both of those agencies are trying to stretch this year’s money so it might last until next year. Certainly they’re working with groups like ours to bolster volunteer efforts. But that can only go so far. The bottom line is we’re going to see things not as well taken care of.”

Arlene Brooks, state director of the Pacific Northwest Four Wheel Drive Association and a member of the NOVA committee, which makes recommendations on use of those funds, called the loss of NOVA funding “devastating.”

She said her organization’s members will continue to do their annual spring volunteer clean up of the trail and use areas.

“Loss of staffing will impact us because, as a rule, there’s one staff person who serves as a liaison between us and them,” she said. The loss of port-a-potties and garbage pickup is a concern from a health standpoint, she said. The enforcement issue also is a concern.

“But we do have ‘eyes in the woods’ or ‘forest watch,’” she said, explaining that members with camera-equipped cell phones can still help with enforcement issues.

Foss said he’s heard rumors that some groups may be preparing lawsuits.

“What we’re preparing for is for this to be a reality,” he said.

As for the future of NOVA funding, it’s the subject of debate.

Is NOVA funding coming back in two years or gone forever? Foss thinks, “it’s coming back. But I can tell you my view is not shared by everybody,” he said.

Brooks is one who agrees with him.

“I think it’s coming back in two years,” she said. “I don’t think it can go on like this. Those are dedicated funds.”

Lunney said the WTA also hopes “this is a one-time thing. We will be working beginning now to make sure this is not going to be a pattern. This was an exceptional year for the Legislature (because of the budget crisis) and we’re trying to be realistic.

“But this should not set a precedent.”
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