Erinswood Trail Grant

Erinswood Trail Grant Is Finally Funded!

By Ann Darlington

It’s been 2-1/2 years since Snohomish County Parks and Recreation and the Friends of Heybrook Ridge submitted an application for a federal grant to complete the Erinswood Trail at the base of Heybrook Ridge County Park. That initial effort and dogged follow-up by SnoCo Parks (and occasional Friendly nudging) has paid off—big. Parks staff jumped through all the hoops and now has a bankroll of $432,000 and 2 years to complete Heybrook’s newest trail and parking lot improvements. $194K (45% of the total) comes from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, and $238K (55%) in matching funds comes from Snohomish County.

Here’s how it happened:
In mid-August, 2018, Kevin Teague (from SnoCo Parks) and I presented applications for two grants to the WA State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) in Olympia. RCO is the state department that vets grant applications and makes recommendations to the federal government for statewide projects. In this case, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grants are handled by the National Park Service (a section of the Department of the Interior), who makes the final grant award decisions (depending on Congressional appropriations, of course). They then go back to the RCO to administer the approved grants, and then RCO draws up contracts with the winning applicants… I think I got that right. I know it is convoluted and time-intensive!

Our LWCF application sought money to complete the 6/10-mile loop trail that the Washington Trails Association had designed and roughly built in early 2018. We opted to make this an ADA-compliant trail, which is complicated, expensive and precious. “ADA” stands for American Disabilities Act of 1990, which sets requirements for accessibility, like the trail’s surfacing, width and rise. At David Meier’s suggestion, we named it the “Erinswood Trail”, in honor of our Index muse, Erin Sample. Our application asked for funding not only to finish the trail but also to make 2 “disabled parking” paved spots in the existing gravel parking lot, add a wheelchair-accessible toilet, put up interpretive signage (highlighting the site’s ecology and its logging history), and replace invasive species (like knotweed, ivy, and blackberry) with native wetland buffer plants.

We made a good showing in Olympia, but were up against impressive park improvement proponents from all over Washington State. A year later (August 2019) we learned that we were ranked 14 out of the 18 applications that RCO recommended for approval by the National Parks Service, and were labeled an “alternate” recipient. The chances of receiving any money looked dim, and depended on how much LWCF money our State House and Senate asked for from the Feds, and how much the Feds could get out of Congress. Still, SnoCo pressed on and planned to get the mandatory wetland and cultural impact studies rolling in case we got the money from the Feds, or found it elsewhere. But they couldn’t spend much money on the Erinswood project yet, since money spent before a grant’s approval cannot be reimbursed after the grant comes through.

I confess: this waiting period was really hard for many of us. FOHR was itching to make progress on Erinswood, but we all had to wait, just in case our application was accepted. Winter came on, Covid followed, and everything slowed down as the world went into a protective semi-hibernation.

This past August, we got some very good news. Additional money for LWCF grants had come through from Congress (thank you, Maria Cantwell, for the “Great American Outdoors Act,” which permanently and fully funds the LWCF). SnoCo was assured by the RCO that they would definitely get the LWCF grant… eventually. In mid-January this year, the contract between SnoCo Parks and RCO for the grant was completed and the money is now available for SnoCo to put it to work.

David McConnell, Parks Planner and our link to SnoCo Parks, is wasting no time in moving ahead. As set up by his predecessor, Kevin Teague, he is working with the landscape architectural firm Bruce Dees and Associates to make sure that, for example, the trail is re-aligned and designed to meet all ADA and watershed protection requirements. Boots on the trail to follow.

Multiple artifacts have already been discovered in Erinswood, including the remains of an abandoned steam donkey and a pair of leather children’s boots. The trail meanders through a lush forest with an old raised rail line on one side and a seasonal creek on the other. There, one immediately feels immersed in a golden-green wilderness, something rarely experienced from, for example, a wheelchair or a stroller.

Erin agrees:

Photo by Karen Sample