Rescue Forest-to-Sky Trail, others county treasures | Guest Column | May 20

For over three decades, the people of Bainbridge Island have been working to complete the Forest-to-Sky Trail, which will connect the island’s most popular trail system through the Grand Fores to Battle Point Park, its most popular park.

This dream nearly is a reality, and the Board of County Commissioners support the state House of Representatives’ approach to funding for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP).

As the budget is finalized, we hope our legislators will keep in mind this matter of crucial importance to our Kitsap communities.

The WWRP has served Washington State well since its inception 22 years ago, when former governors Daniel J. Evans and Mike Lowry reached across party lines in an effort to protect and improve state and local parks, preserve habitat for fish and wildlife, and save working farms.

The WWRP funds high-priority land conservation and recreation projects statewide based on an independent ranking criteria that determines which projects are the best.

This means that every community has an equal opportunity to get its project funded, whether it’s protecting and restoring critical habitat for endangered fish and wildlife species or rare plants or creating parks where our children can play..

Earlier this spring, the House announced its capital budget, which slashed funding for the WWRP by 50 percent – from $100 million to $50 million. This was a drastic reduction, but in these tough economic times every state program must make sacrifices. For this reason, and because the House protected the integrity of the WWRP’s ranking process, we supported the proposal.

However, the Senate version, which would cut the Forest-to-Sky Trail, not only seeks further funding reductions but also to interject new “jobs-based criteria” into the ranking process, thereby disregarding the traditional “merit-based approach.”

The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners recently wrote to our state legislative delegation asking them to support the House approach to funding the WWRP. We took this step even though it meant that a project proposed by our County Parks Department, which ranked lower on the ranking list than the Forest-to-Sky Trail, would not be funded.

The people of Bainbridge Island deserve state funding for the trail. They have worked long and hard to make this dream a reality, and this project ranks among the best of its kind in the state. But this issue is bigger than just one trail, however important.

What is at stake here is the integrity of one of our state’s most successful and popular programs, which enjoys broad bipartisan support for its mandate to protect and enhance our natural environment and to provide quality recreation opportunities for our citizens.

Let’s not sacrifice the integrity of this important program for the sake of short-term expediency in the legislative process.

Kitsap County Board of Commissioners  Robert Gelder, Charlotte Garrido and Josh Brown authored this report.

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