Trails part of the economic pie

Editorial Gary MugAlthough some might not see their value, Okanogan County’s system of trails has become important to our communities in many ways. Perhaps most importantly the trails offer a good way to keep ourselves healthy through hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Even though some of us might not able to run in a marathon any more (or ever), having a variety of trails offers great exercise opportunities for the amateur and hardcore hikers alike and and a way to enjoy the outdoors in what my dad would call “God’s country.”

The trails are also an opportunity for business, especially up here in the north county. They attract tourists and give visitors something they can’t find everywhere – a great place to get outdoors and enjoy nature. Those people in turn spend money in our stores, stay in our campgrounds, resorts and motels and improve the local economy. The trails are also a good way to attract people to come live in our communities, people like doctors or someone who might want to start a new business. Along with good schools, medical facilities and friendly neighborhoods, things like outdoor recreation opportunities attract good people.

This is a formula they discovered in the Methow many years ago and they have an excellent system of trails. It seemed like the rest of the county was just starting to catch up, when our new batch of county commissioners seemed to not have the same vision as their predecessors. Extra land surrounding things like Whistler’s Canyon Trailhead seemed to have become a liability, not a positive. They decided it should be sold leaving only a ten foot buffer. This was not very far sighted – yes it meant those few acres were not going to collect property tax, but they are part of a bigger picture. People had discovered recreational opportunities in those acres and for the reasons already given, they generate money that makes its way into the county coffers through sales tax. It’s all part of a big economic ecosystem.

Now it sounds like they don’t want to develop the Similkameen River Trailhead that was deeded to the county by the city of Oroville. There is a still grant money that was set aside to finish the trailhead with a shelter, restrooms and improved parking. Hopefully the commissioners will see the benefit of continuing with Oroville as their partner in finishing the work on the trailhead, even if future maintenance of the facility is left to the city.

While tourism may not be the number one economic driver in the county, it has always served as a back up to other industries when times are bad. We still rely on things like agriculture, but no matter how much we might want to hang on to times past, things change – apples, cattle and logging are not what they were even though they remain big pieces of the county’s economic pie. It is farsighted to want to develop the other pieces like tourism.

Kinross Gold, through their Echo Bay Minerals, was farsighted in purchasing the land around the Whistler’s Canyon Trailhead. It is shows they are trying to be a good neighbor, while mitigating for their mining projects. They, along with groups like the local chapter of Back Country Horsemen, the Pacific National Trail Association, the Okanogan Trails Coalition and others that volunteer their time and money to our local trails are to be applauded.

Let’s hope the county commissioners can recapture some of the vision of their predecessors when it comes to the county’s trail system. If not, at the very least let’s hope they will not put any further obstacles in the path that leads to further economic benefit through outdoor recreation.