The City of Spokane Parks and Recreation department is right now engaged in a great multi-year public planning process called “Roadmap to the Future.” In a recent draft of the planning process findings one word pops up again and again: trails. Some direct quotes from the draft:

• According to survey data, the greatest future need for outdoor facilities are trails and trail connections.

• According to survey data, parks and trails are the most important service the Department provides and have the highest current use and satisfaction rates amongst those surveyed.

This second finding is interesting because the Parks Department currently only encompasses three significant developed trails; the Fish Lake Trail, the Ben Burr Trail, and portions of the Centennial Trail. The trail inventory that the Department currently maintains is quite small compared to the entire parks system, yet it still rates at the top for use and satisfaction. Imagine what folks would think if we had an even better trail system.

According the draft report heightened interest in outdoor recreation and trails is a national trend. So, will the next Spokane Parks bond to build new facilities include new trails? Perhaps, but there are some significant obstacles. Right now our Spokane Parks system has a $35 million dollar backlog in deferred maintenance. Recently completed pools and the Dwight Merkel Sports Complex have only added more high maintenance facilities to that equation. It’s much easier to get folks to vote for building stuff than it is to get them to support a constant stream of money to maintain them. Have you ever been to a ribbon cutting ceremony for a lawnmower?

The second issue is the cost of trails. While trails are arguably a lot cheaper to build and maintain than other types of parks facilities the biggest cost for a new trail is usually acquiring the right-of-way. Any trail that is not just a short loop needs to cross multiple properties with multiple owners and completing these paths takes time and money.

Does that mean it can’t be done? Heck no. It just means that the best opportunity for trails may mean that Parks needs to partner with transportation funders to make it happen. The best trails aren’t just a way to bike and hike; they also help us get where we want to go. There’s a roadmap to the future.