Opinion

Leveraging funds to protect local parks and habitat

By Bill Chapman

Bike ride up the hill through the trees on Mercer Island's 53rd Place Greenbelt; dog walk by moonlight on the boardwalk in Bellevue's Mercer Slough wetlands; trail run up Issaquah's West Tiger Mountain; summer evening hike up to North Bend's Rattlesnake Ledge; mountain bike along the Iron Horse State Park Trail in the Mountains to Sound Greenway all the way from North Bend across the high trestles to the tunnel at Snoqualmie Pass; camp with the kids and inner tubes at Lake Easton State Park.

What do all these greenspace activities have in common (aside from families recreating outdoors along the I-90 Mountains to Sound Greenway)? Grant funding from the Washington State Wildlife and Recreation Program helped leverage local funds to make these opportunities possible. Last month Gov. Gregoire appointed me to the Governor's Interagency Committee on Outdoor Recreation (the "IAC"). The seven other members of the IAC and I approve grants for several programs statewide, including the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP). The WWRP helps local communities create new parks and acquire land to protect wildlife habitat in every corner of the state. Since 1990, a total of $408 million has helped purchase over 650 neighborhood parks, ball fields, trails, beaches, boat ramps, wildlife habitat and state parks. Local communities work with community groups to put up matching funds, apply for grants, and participate in a competitive process for scarce matching funds from the state in order to determine which projects should be funded. The governor and state Legislature set the total funding levels and approve the final list of projects.

Every day our population continues to grow, translating into nonstop development in our rural and urban areas. In addition, we continue to see shrinking city and county budgets. Rescuing, protecting and preserving our recreational areas are key to the vitality of our community and help to maintain our quality of life. Our communities have a responsibility to care for wildlife and outdoor recreation areas for our families and future generations.

The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition advocates for state funding for the WWRP grant program. This bipartisan group of citizen activists and leaders represent business, recreation, labor, fishing, hunting and conservation interests. The coalition is very effective but they need our help in communicating to our legislators how important this program is for our community. Each year, scarce resources and budget realities mean that there's a shortfall of public funds, and more than half to two-thirds of projects go unfunded. Two of Mercer Island's representatives, Republican Fred Jarret and Democrat Judy Clibborn, have been strong supporters on Mercer Island's behalf.

If you have a favorite place that needs protection or additional enhancements, contact your local park director about a WWRP grant or contact the coalition to learn about projects in your community (www.WildlifeRecreation.org). Consider contacting the governor and your local state legislators to thank them for supporting the WWRP grant program. The WWRP helps provide the oxygen that breathes life into our community parks and protects our wildlife. They help make our communities a great place to live, work and play.

Please write to: Joanna Grist Executive director, Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition 811 First Ave, #262, Seattle, WA 98104 (206) 748-0082 Joanna@WildlifeRecreation.org www.WildlifeRecreation.org Bill Chapman is an attorney at Preston, Gates & Ellis. He serves on the Mercer Island Planning Commission, the Board of the Washington State Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, chairs the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, and is a founding board member of the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition.

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