Buckley mayor headed to D.C., making pitch for trail funding

Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson is among a dedicated group of individuals who have tried, for years, to see a network of local trails connected.

But Johnson, who also serves as vice president of the regional Foothills Rails to Trails Coalition, has found funding for trails exceedingly scarce.

But now that Congress has earmarked $1.5 billion for active trail projects, Johnson and others will attempt to strike while the iron is hot. At stake is one of 40 grants available nationwide.

She and 85-year-old cohort Dixie Gatchel will fly to Washington D.C., March 12-13, acting as advocates for the regional trail system. They will work in concert with congressmen Dave Reichert, Adam Smith and Norm Dicks and U.S. senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, all representing the state of Washington and all hoping to squeeze in a sales pitch to obtain federal money.

The Foothills Rails to Trails Coalition will join forces with groups from Spokane and Seattle which, in turn, will work with groups from Oregon to make up the Northwest constituency from the National Rails to Trails Conservancy, a powerful lobbying body.

“The congressmen and senators that the National Rails To Trails Conservancy will be talking to are going to have the House’s attention for a maximum of 15 minutes, but it is definitely worth a try,” Johnson said. “Imagine what we could do with even one of those grants ($50 million). We could hook up all of the missing links to trails around here so people could actually use the trails to commute to work on a regular basis and we could finally get that bridge built across the White River from Buckley to Enumclaw.”

No city money is being spent on the effort, as Johnson is paying her own airfare and other costs during her two-day stint in the nation’s capitol.

“The strong movement around the Foothills Rails To Trails Coalition and in our nation right now is to burn calories not carbons,” Johnson said, when about the message she will take to D.C. “There is a fervor in this country, a current trend toward getting people out if their cars and exercising more.

Johnson pointed out that getting a bridge across the White River has long been the desire of Plateau trail advocates, but funding from the cities and private sector isn’t enough.

“We need federal financial backing to get that bridge built and it is critically important for safety and practical reasons,” she said.

The existing bridge, a link in state Route 410, is 50 years old and is dangerous to cross on foot, Johnson explained. If anything happened to the bridge, the only other way to reach the other side of the river is a long, roundabout drive.

Trail boosters envision a new trail bridge that would be wide enough, and sturdy enough, to use as an emergency bridge in a pinch, allowing an ambulance or or other emergency vehicle to get across the river quickly.

Reach John Leggett at jleggett@courierherald.com or 360-802-8207.