Trip Report: Outdoor Alliance Washington Talks Equitable Outdoor Access with Rep. Marilyn Strickland

The Mountaineers conservation team and Outdoor Alliance Washington partners recently visited Washington Trails Association’s gear library in Puyallup to discuss the importance of equitable access to the outdoors and federal funding for trails with Representative Marilyn Strickland (WA-10). Read more about the event and these important issues in our trip report.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
April 22, 2022

Last year, we announced that The Mountaineers is leading Outdoor Alliance Washington, a group of organizations representing the human-powered outdoor recreation community in Washington State. Outdoor Alliance Washington meets with elected officials to advocate for funding to improve outdoor recreation opportunities and conserve our public lands. While we often meet through Zoom or in an office, it’s much more fun - and effective - to meet in officials’  districts in parks and public lands.

Last week OA Washington met with Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-10) and her staff at Meridian Habitat Park in Puyallup, where the park’s community center plays host to the Washington Trails Association’s (WTA) South Sound gear rental library. Together with partners from Pierce County Parks, Washington Trails Association, American Whitewater, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, and Leafline Trails Coalition, we discussed the importance of equitable outdoor access and federal funding for trails. We even fitted the congresswoman for a backpacking pack!

Increasing equitable access to the outdoors is a goal shared by all of OA Washington’s member groups. We believe that everyone deserves to have access to outdoor opportunities and the mental, emotional, and physical benefits they provide. Our organizations work to break down barriers to the outdoors, both through policy and programs like gear libraries.

Increasing Outdoor Access in Pierce County

WTA opened its second gear library in October 2021 to provide gear to organizations that take historically excluded communities outdoors in the South Puget Sound region. Outdoor gear can be expensive and intimidating to learn to use, so the gear library provides gear and training for folks newer to the outdoors. Its associated Outdoor Leadership Training program provides information for how to use the gear, training, and grant assistance to cover transportation expenses.

WTA’s Community Partnerships and Leadership Development Coordinator, MJ Sampang, and Communities for a Healthy Bay’s Clean Water Educator, Khadijah Tavidad, spoke about how the gear library works to reduce barriers and facilitate outdoor experiences for South Sound communities. Rep. Strickland was eager to hear of these efforts to connect area youth to nearby experiences in nature, and suggested several new community partners for the program.

Gear Library Photo_Final.pngMJ Sampang, Rep. Strickland, and WTA’s Jaime Loucky pose for a gear library photo. Photo by Conor Marshall.

A Champion for Equity in the South Sound

A longtime Tacoma resident and former mayor of the city, Rep. Strickland is the newest member of Washington’s congressional delegation. She serves as a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, where the self-proclaimed “transit geek” serves on two subcommittees that focus on railroads, highways, and transit issues. She’s also a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The 10th congressional district - which includes parts of the city of Tacoma and parts of Pierce, Thurston, and Mason counties - is a gateway to many of our region’s popular public lands. Despite close proximity to Mount Rainier National Park and Puget Sound, many communities in Pierce County experience barriers to accessing the outdoors because of systemic inequities and historic underinvestment in those communities.

The congresswoman’s motivation to advance outdoor equity is personal. While growing up in South Tacoma, she was disconnected from the city’s waterfront and the parks and natural areas surrounding it.

“We didn’t own a boat, so we thought the waterfront wasn’t for us. I didn’t have a sense of all the natural assets so close by. All of these areas belong to us all, and education and action to remove barriers to access is so important,” she explained.

She went on to acknowledge that lack of access to nature can impact your physical and mental health: “Unfortunately you can judge someone’s life expectancy based on their zip code. As a policy-maker, everything I do is through the lens of equity.”

Congresswoman Strickland is a co-sponsor of the Transit to Trails Act of 2021, legislation that would create a grant program for projects that increase transportation access and mobility to public lands, shorelines, and monuments for critically underserved populations.

Funding our Trails

Following the gear library tour, we sat down for a policy roundtable discussion centered around the importance of the Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program (RTP). The program provides grant funding to government agencies and nonprofits for trail maintenance and restoration; trailside facilities, education of trail users, and other important uses.

To date, funds have gone towards 760 projects in Washington state, primarily for the maintenance and restoration of trails. OA Washington partners like WTA and Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance (Evergreen) utilize RTP funding for trail projects across the state. Evergreen received $200,000 in RTP funds in the current two-year state budget cycle, but could put five times that amount to work on ground through additional projects.

Securing grant funding can be competitive, as Washington state has only received 1.9 million annually in recent years. Rep. Strickland also co-sponsored the RTP Full Funding Act of 2021, which would boost the program from its current annual funding of $84 million to full funding of $150 million.

We often hear from decision-makers about the value of many organizations coming together to advocate for shared priorities - something OA Washington does well. Rep. Strickland also underscored the power of hearing a collective voice when considering funding requests. Outdoor Alliance Washington is looking forward to working with the congresswoman’s office to build support for increased funding for the Recreational Trails Program, which will create a meaningful impact on Washington’s trails.

Policy Discussion 4.jpgOA Washington partners discuss the impact of the Recreational Trails Program with Rep. Strickland. Photo by Conor Marshall.

Join Us

As we work to grow Outdoor Alliance Washington, we’re hoping to build a coalition of Mountaineers who can use their connection to our region’s landscapes to help achieve policy wins for the public lands we love. Email our conservation team if you’re interested in getting more involved in OA Washington advocacy efforts.

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A version of this post also appears on the Outdoor Alliance blog.

Lead Image of Outdoor Alliance partners with Rep. Strickland and her staff at Meridian Habitat park in Puyallup, WA. Photo by Conor Marshall.