EWU students recently headed to Olympia for all kinds of important issues like promoting EWU Computer Science and securing funding for the new science building. I traveled to Washington’s capitol to attend the Big Tent Coalition Rally for Outdoor Recreation and advocate for more funding for The John Wayne Pioneer Trail, a cross-state trail that connects to Cheney and EWU.
The big white tent set up in front of the Washington State Capital was packed with banners, gear and all manner of people wearing bright ski coats, sharp business suits, and denim jackets and cowboy hats. The overcast sky had just opened up a torrent, so loud I leaned in to hear Governor Inslee address this odd assortment of outdoor enthusiasts and politicians.
In spite of the weather, his message came through loud and clear: The importance of Outdoor Recreation to Washington State is undeniable. A new study, the first of its kind in Washington, has determined the total economic impact of outdoor recreation equals $22.5 billion annually, with $1.5 billion of tax revenue and supporting 200,000 jobs.
Besides the major economic impact, getting outside is good for our health.
Gov. Inslee called on young people to go outside, to seek adventure off the beaten path. “Going outside is the single biggest health benefit to our young people,” he said. He emphasized that young people are the future leaders and caretakers of the environment. He backed this up by restarting the state’s “No Child Left Inside” program, which funds various independent groups that help youth get out of the cities and into the wilderness.
Next, legendary mountaineer Jim Whittaker took the stage. He was the first American to Summit Mt. Everest and is a co-founder of REI. In remarkable shape for 86, he bounded up to the stage and spoke eloquently about his experiences. He emphasized his belief that actively participating in preservation of our landscapes leads to a lifetime of profound experiences and lasting love and respect for the environment.
John Snyder also spoke. In December the Spokane City Councilman was appointed the state’s very first Adviser to the Governor on Outdoor Recreation. Snyder (pictured below) started the NW outdoor recreation magazine Out There Monthly. He is a fellow supporter of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, the cross-state rail-trail.
I came to Olympia to learn more about the legislative process by promoting the public’s and elected official’s awareness of The John Wayne Pioneer Trail. This former railroad is now a trail that takes hikers, horse riders and cyclists 253 miles across Washington State from North Bend clear to the Idaho border. It is the longest rails-to-trails conversion in the country, and one of only two cross-state trail systems.
The John Wayne Trail connects to EWU via the Columbia Plateau Trail (aka the Fish Lake Trail). The potential is there for students to enjoy a weekend ride on the trail, camping along the way, or a day ride on the paved Fish Lake Trail that connects to Spokane (an easy, off road 1.5 hour bike ride).
Last August I biked the trail from North Bend to Spokane over the course of five days. It was an adventure that I will never forget. I was challenged both physically and mentally, and was amazed by the beauty of our state, especially the remote high desert of eastern Washington.
While it’s tempting to stay inside and play computer games or binge watch Netflix, mixing in screen-time with regular exercise and interaction with nature will actually help you do better in college. You will likely experience better grades, cure writer’s block, and just feel happier.
A 2015 Stanford study shows that people who “engage with nature” have less negative thoughts than those who spend time walking around in urban areas.