As more Pacific Northwest residents headed out to hiking trails and campgrounds during the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Forest Service and conservation nonprofits witnessed a faster decline in the condition of recreational areas.

To preserve these areas around Washington and the entire country, the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) was signed into law in August 2020. The measure will direct a significant amount of funding to public lands, according to a news release from the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

“People have been trying to find a way to do something safe and meaningful in their spare time,” said Mackenzie Dolstad, stewardship program manager for Greenway Trust. “They have been loving these landscapes, and it's great to see everyone getting out and excited, however, it's exacerbating some of the existing problems where agencies have not had the resources to fully address the maintenance needs.”

The release said the GAOA will impact recreational systems across the country by permanently funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as inaugurating the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund.

Dolstad said the main mission of the legislation is to provide more funding for delayed maintenance and repair projects in national parks, national forests and other federal lands.

Specifically for Washington, the act will include maintenance and improvements at popular recreation areas like Snow Lake, Franklin Falls, Denny Creek, Annette Lake and the new Pratt Bar trail in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley.

“We hope that this [legislation] will address some of the priorities, knowing that they can’t address everything,” Dolstad said. “We want to make sure that people are aware that this work is happening, and we want to help people understand how the structure of our public lands are cared for.”

Other goals will target road improvements for Kachess Campground near Cle Elum as well as trail maintenance work on the Pacific Crest Trail, the release stated.

The release said forest service staff at campgrounds like Tinkham in North Bend and Wish Poosh in Cle Elum requested bear-proof food storage containers, fee tubes and fire rings. The additional funding will support efforts by youth conservation corps crews, volunteers and other nonprofit partners.

Dolstad said the work itself will be overseen by the US Forest Service and carried out in partnership with nonprofit organizations including the Greenway Trust, Washington Trails Association and National Older Worker Career Center.

Katie Egresi, communications coordinator for Greenway Trust, said the organization strives to protect and maintain the 1.5 million acres that span from Seattle to Ellensburg along the Interstate-90 corridor.

“We try to balance caring for the environment while allowing access to nature,” Egresi said.

An agreement between the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest will create a shared effort to help complete many of the projects, she said.

The Greenway Trust believes at least 39 jobs will be directly supported by the projects listed above, stated the release.  Other industries will be indirectly supported as well, such as manufacturers of picnic tables, delivery drivers and prefabricated trailhead restroom facilities.

Each project will follow a different timeline based on time sensitivity, Dolstad said. For example, he noted, the Snow Lake trail can only be accessed in the summer because of its high elevation and snow conditions.

“The creation of the Great American Outdoors Act provided another opportunity to work with our partners, and to highlight some of these areas of particularly critical need across the landscape,” Dolstad said.

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