Mount Si is safe for another summer

Everyone from hiking enthusiasts to local businesses and city officials had cause to celebrate last week when word was announced that public trailheads would be saved at Mount Si, Little Si, and other state-operated recreation areas in the Valley.

That’s because the Washington Legislature found a way to preserve recreation funding for the state Department of Natural Resources. While the House had jettisoned the funding, the state senate kept it and it survived negotiations to make it to the final late-night vote last week.

A few readers have told me that closures at Mount Si should never have been suggested, and might have been grandstanding to draw attention to the state’s plight. If so, the attention apparently worked. Si is safe and Washington now has a heavier tax on that hiking trail essential, bottled water, along with beer, soda and candy.

Some state bean-counters might argue that trail recreation is a want, not a need, and something that Valley residents could have privately paid for. But news of the closure was certainly a blow to folks that regularly hike the slopes of Rattlesnake Ledge or the two Sis, as well as those who depend on visitors for their livelihood.

Plenty of folks commented that recreation is truly a need for this Valley. One of those is North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing. He estimates that, on a summer weekend, 80 to 90 percent of business at his popular restaurant, Scott’s Dairy Freeze, is made up of out-of-towners. We shouldn’t underestimate the role that tourism plays in the local economy. North Bend and Carnation are going through serious branding efforts to draw more visitors, and all local cities bought into the grand new Outside Seattle Web page with an eye on the same.

When we broke the trail cuts story back in January, the state was going through very tough financial times. At the same time, stories had been breaking about high school seniors who might have to do without state scholarships, possible cuts to state education programs and limited county funds for things like law enforcement or elder programs. To hear local legislators, folks from the DNR or trail allies talk, the situation is not much better four months later.

Jonathan Guzzo, a spokesman for the Washington Trails Association, told me that the DNR is still not on a sustainable budget. Last week’s vote was a reprieve, he said. The department had already tightened its belt in 2009, and as the economy recovers, Guzzo’s group plans to prevail on the legislature for help and change for Washington recreation.

Trail funding may have been preserved, but the fallout from a very tough budget session in other areas remains to be seen. It’s going to take a lot of chewing gum and candy purchases to get us out of this mess.

For now, celebrate the fact that you can freely enjoy these amazing sites. I won’t deny I’m itching to join the hundreds of thousands of people who hit the hillsides here one of these warm spring days.

• E-mail Editor Seth Truscott at editor@valleyrecord.com.

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