State Trails Plan

Purpose

The 2018 Washington State Trails Plan intends to foster a trails system to promote the public’s enjoyment and appreciation for outdoor areas of Washington. The trails system supports multiple benefits beyond recreation such as improving health, contributing to local economies, linking to transportation routes, and conserving wildlife corridors. This plan guides decisions and determines how to invest limited funding on the most important trail needs.

For purposes of this plan, the trails system includes local, regional, state and federal land and water trails for a variety of users including paddlers, walkers, hikers, bicyclists, equestrians, skiers and snowshoers, and off-road vehicle and snowmobile riders.

Goal

The 2018 Washington State Trails Plan goal is to build a connected network to accommodate use within neighborhoods, connect communities together, and provide access to the backcountry and wilderness areas. A key priority to meeting this goal is to identify the gaps in the trails system. It includes a mapped inventory of existing trails, trailheads and other amenities. The Mapped Inventory is a resource to identify where to create new routes and make connections. As a supplement to 2018-2022 Recreation and Conservation Plan, the State Trails Plan also informs federal, state and local planning efforts.

Authority statement

Washington State Recreation Trails System Act Revised Code of Washington 79A.35. This plan is an appendix to and relies on the research and findings in the 2018-2022 Recreation and Conservation Plan. The Recreation and Conservation Funding adopted the plan on October 11, 2017. This plan also meets the requirements to for trail planning under the Federal Highways Administration’s Recreational Trails Program.

Recommendations:
Improve Trail Equity

The 2018-2022 Recreation and Conservation Plan identifies four recommendations related to Improve Equity of Parks, Trails, and Conservation Lands. These recommendations can be applied directly to recreational in the following ways.

The State Trails Plan incorporates the recommendation to provide for underserved populations as key efforts to providing a trail system for all Washingtonians, particularly for people of low income, people of color and people with disabilities.

As a first step to assessing the needs of underserved populations, the Recreation and Conservation Office created a Grant Applicant Data Tool to display the demographic characteristics of each census tract in Washington State. The map also includes an inventory of trails and trailheads. This map is a first step to assessing whether communities with high percentages of low income, people of color, and people with disability have access to trails. The map shows that underserved communities can be found across the state in urban and rural communities.

More research is needed to further assess the populations most underserved by trails and to identify ways to encourage trail development and the use of trails in those communities.

Trails are a common denominator for getting people outside because trails support several types of outdoor recreation. According to the State of Washington 2017 Assessment of Outdoor Recreation Demand Report, walking, hiking, bicycling and running are the most popular types of recreation occurring on trails. See the chart below for a list of all trail related recreation activities.

Percent of Population Who Recreate On Trails

Providing more access and opportunity to trails is a top demand compared to other forms of outdoor recreation. In addition, trails are a gateway to other recreation opportunities that are popular. For example, trails provide access to fishing, hunting and trapping, nature based activities, and climbing. Trails alone may not generate high economic benefits, but coupled with a destination can foster economic development. Outdoor recreation that relies on trails as a method of enjoyment and access to other opportunities generates over $14 billion in expenditures each year.[1]

Access to trails remains a priority as demonstrated in previous trail plans. Access issues include:

  • Accommodating persons with disabilities,
  • Attracting a diverse population to use trails,
  • Closure of roads to backcountry and wilderness trail locations,
  • Crowding and conflicts between users,
  • Lack of information about trail routes and conditions, and
  • Lack of trailheads and places to get on and off trails.
Ferry County Trail

Ferry County and the Ferry County Rail Trail Partnerships is working to complete a 25-mile trail from Republic to Danville.

In general, the recommendations in this State Trail Plan will assist with access issues. The appropriate responses to access issues depends on the specific trail conditions and location. For example, accommodating persons with disabilities and attracting a diverse set of users can be addressed by trail design. Road closures require coordination with land managers. Crowding and a lack of facilities can be addressed by developing new trail opportunities. All of these issues require coordinate between land managers, users, and funders to ensure access issues remain a top priority.

Total Annual Expenditures of Activities Supported by Trails
Activity Total Expenditures
Bicycling $3,136,644,285
Horseback Riding $2,292,986,614
Off-roading $2,292,961,301
Hiking $2,164,952,296
Hiking $1,897,762,956
Snow and Ice Activities $1,726,729,167
Running/jogging/trail running $817,789,972
TOTAL $14,329,826,591

People use trails in various locations for different activities. For example, people prefer to walk, run or bike in their neighborhood; hike and backpack in a state park; ride off-road vehicles on Department of Natural Resources lands; and horseback ride or recreate in the snow on private lands. The variety of locations where people use trails supports the need for urban, rural, and wilderness trails depending on the recreation experience.

Providing trails in the locations that serve the most people supports the public’s needs efficiently. However, crowding can impact the recreational experience and more trails will be needed in the future to accommodate the growth in population. More research is needed to identify the types of trails that are in demand and experience over-crowding, the geographic gaps in the trail system for different types of trail uses, and the places to expand the trail system. Data on trail use will help accurately inform the research needed.  More information about where people recreate is in the chart below which was created from data in the State of Washington 2017 Assessment of Outdoor Recreation Demand Report.

The data displayed for “Participation Rates of the Location within a Recreation Category” shows a percentage of the population that participates within the participation rate of the chosen recreation category. For example, 76 percent of the 94 percent of the population that walked in 2017 went walking in their neighborhood. The data displayed in the chart is within a 1-2 percent margin of error when compared to the data presented in the 2017 Assessment of Demand.

Safety issues, whether real or perceived, are concerns on trails of any kind whether in the city or in the forest. Safety was identified as an important issue with participants in a focus group at the October 2016 Washington State Trails Conference in Richland, Washington. Participants stated that fear of getting lost, how to call for help, and potential criminal activity were all factors for trail users when it comes to feeling safe. Trail planning and design need to address these issues in order to increase the use and support for trails. Elements such as way finding, cellular phone reception, security cameras, and design best practices can aid in reducing the fear of using trails.

Link Trails with Transportation

Trails are an integral link to the multi-modal transportation system. In fact, 5 percent of the population bicycles strictly as a source of transportation. Not surprisingly, many people use roads, streets, and sidewalks, for walking, running, and bicycling. The chart below shows the percent of the population using roads, streets and sidewalks for recreation purposes [2]

Percent of Population who Recreate on Roads and Sidewalks

Recreation Activity Percentage of Population
Walking on a sidewalk 65%
Walking on a road or street without sidewalks 62%
Bicycling on a road or street 25%
Running on a road or street without sidewalks 13%
Running on a sidewalk 13%

Recreational trails can complement and link with multi-modal transportation systems to provide a seamless experience. Fostering links between recreation and transportation planning efforts maximizes limited trail resources and improves access to a larger network of trails. Opportunities to coordinate efforts and identify funding include:

Create Regional Partnerships

A trails system requires regional, state, and federal coordination to develop and maintain it. The State Trails Plan incorporates the recommendations in the priority to Sustain and Grow the Legacy of Parks, Trails, and Conservation Lands from the 2018-2022 Recreation and Conservation Plan to pursue regional solutions and build partnerships particularly because trails cross jurisdictional boundaries. Trail managers, transportation planners, and advocates need to work cooperatively to build and maintain a trails system that leverages resources and improves the user’s experience. Doing so will create a connected trail system across jurisdictions.

Duthie Hills

King County partnered with the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance to develop Duthie Hills Mountain Bike Park.

Maintain Inventory of Mapped Trails

The 2018-2022 Recreation and Conservation Plan includes a recommendation to maintain a Mapped Inventory of parks, trails, and conservation lands. The State Trails Plan incorporates the mapping recommendation as a key element to support the other recommendations in this trails plan. Mapping of trail systems was identified as an important issue with participants in a focus group at the 2016 Washington State Trails Conference in Richland, Washington. Participants requested state assistance with maintaining a statewide trails map to manage and share data and to reduce duplicating efforts for trail mapping.

In addition to maintaining the Mapped Inventory of trails, the Recreation and Conservation Office will work to improve and expand the trails database as described in the Washington State Trails Strategic Plan to include proposed or planned trails as a way to gauge the projected future demand for new trails.

Evaluate the State Recreation Trails Designation Program

The need for a state trails plan originates from the Washington State Recreation Trails System Act. The plan informs the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board on specific trails or segments of trails to designate as state recreation trails. The board created a state recreation trails designation program in 1973 and over a 5-year period identified general corridors where it would accept requests for designation as a state recreation trail. The corridors identified by the board are in the table below. According to historical documents, the board developed criteria to evaluate trails for designation but did not approve any.

State Recreation Trail Corridors from 1973-1978

During the next 5 years, the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board will evaluate whether to renew the state recreational trail designation program established in 1973. As part its review, the board will consider the following questions:

  • Would it be beneficial to renew the system?
  • What are the benefits? What are the challenges?
  • What are the desired outcomes?
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