1.5 million acres of greenway along I-90 earns National Heritage Area recognition | KNKX

1.5 million acres of greenway along I-90 earns National Heritage Area recognition

Mar 13, 2019

A sweeping public lands package was signed into law Tuesday by President Donald Trump, containing numerous benefits for Washington state. It includes a National Heritage Area designation for the Mountains to Sound Greenway, which covers 1.5 million acres stretching from Ellensburg to Seattle along the Interstate 90 corridor. 

The designation joined other important pieces of legislation, including permanent re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund that's supported more than 600 Washington projects valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. The package also contains more than 100 individual bills related to conservation and public lands, including one that prevents mining in the Methow Valley and another that improves volcano monitoring systems.

People gathered on the beach at Lake Sammamish State Park to celebrate the greenway's designation.

Efforts to create the greenway started nearly 30 years ago, when a group of citizens concerned about development pressures staged a protest hike — from the top of Snoqualmie Pass, through forest lands, all the way to the shores of Puget Sound. A year later, in 1991, the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust was founded. People who care about it have been working for more than eight years to get this national recognition.

“We’re thrilled — it’s an exciting day," said Jon Hoekstra, executive director for the trust. "A really exciting day for our region."

The designation does not come with a lot of federal funding, but Hoekstra says it will provide support for complex cooperative efforts, such as those needed when connecting or improving trails and recreation areas.

“By working together across jurisdictions, we can protect and make accessible things that the community deeply values and loves and enjoys, that any one entity can’t do by themselves,” Hoekstra said.

One current example would be the much-used Middle Fork Snoqualmie Valley outside North Bend, where about $20 million is needed to safely accommodate crowds to popular destinations such as the Mailbox Peak trailhead. King County operated a shuttle there last summer, but local funding is still falling short. Hoekstra hopes national-heritage status can help address the need, perhaps by leveraging more funds.

But that will take time. First and foremost, he says Tuesday’s bill signing provides recognition for a unique corridor of land. Hoekstra describes it as a rich mosaic, with multiple uses that make the greenway well suited to the heritage area’s definition of a “lived-in landscape.” It includes parts of wilderness areas and national parks.  

“It also has working farms and working forests and one of the fastest growing urban centers in the country,” Hoekstra said. “And all of these different flavors of the landscape connect together into something that is uniquely Northwest, uniquely greenway.”

The federal bill also recognizes Washington's coast as a National Maritime Heritage Area. And Seattle’s new Nordic Museum in Ballard is designated as the National Nordic Museum.