Damaged trails get boost from windfall - Residents still concerned about shrinking budget for trail maintenance

By MacLeod Pappidas
Methow Valley News


Methow Valley, WA - Some sorely needed trail funding has come through for the Methow Valley Ranger District.
At a public meeting in Winthrop last weekend, U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt of the Fifth District announced that $800,000 of $8 million allocated for emergency trail repair on Forest Service land nationally will be spent on trails in and around the Methow Valley.
The money is specifically intended for the repair of trails and campgrounds damaged by last yearís wildfires and subsequent flooding.
The money, according to district ranger John Newcom, is the result of a yearlong collaboration between the Methow Valley Ranger District and the Republican congressman.
"He had been working with us through last summer," said Newcom. "He came through for us."
Nethercuttís office offered an audience with the congressman after receiving a letter from Rita Kenny, co-owner of Winthrop Mountain Sports.
In her letter, Kenny explained that the trail system is "vital to our economy and our lives," voicing concern not only about the status of the damaged trails, but of the shrinking budget for trail maintenance on Forest Service lands.
At the meeting Saturday (July 31), between 30 and 40 people representing various recreational forest interests in the valley filled the Winthrop Town Council chambers to meet with the congressman.
There, some residents expressed their concerns about recreational trail funding. The extra money this year is great, they said, but it doesnít address the issue of decreased funding for forest recreation.
"A one-time allocation really isnít going to be that meaningful in the bigger picture," said Katharine Bill, executive director of the Methow Conservancy. "But $800,000 is a good start. It can be multiplied by tapping local volunteer energy."
Funding for trail and campground maintenance has been shrinking for several years, according to Newcom.
"In the í60s and í70s we had three trail crews working. Now we only have one," he said.
He said that monies from the controversial Fee Demo program are matched by the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation and then allocated to trails, but that the amount raised doesnít offset the loss from the shrinking recreation budget. He also said that the efforts of volunteers have been helpful, but even they cost money to coordinate.
While the long-term problem of trail maintenance was not resolved, Kenny was pleased to see a wide variety of interests galvanized on the issue.
"We got an audience with a federal representative and we had a broad range of users who all agree on the value of recreation," she said, adding that local businesses arenít the only victims of closed or poorly maintained trails.
"Itís not just from being a business owner and counting my dollars," itís a quality of life issue, she said. "I came here to recreate."



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