Enjoyment and support of the Inland Northwest’s abundant outdoor recreation opportunities transcends party lines and politics for the most part, yet too often elected officials in places like Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District devote too little time to safeguarding the trails, natural resources, and active lifestyle that so many of us of all political stripes enjoy.

So when Lisa Brown, former Washington State Senate Majority Leader and chancellor of Washington State University Spokane, stepped up to run for congress in the 5th Congressional District, outdoor enthusiasts (Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike) gained a new champion for outdoor recreation and trails.

Brown, a Democrat, loves hiking and biking for the same reasons the rest of us do: recreation with family and friends, exercise, a healthier commuting option, and connecting with the great outdoors. Naturally, her appreciation for these activities means she is a strong advocate for public paths, trail safety, and giving back to neighborhoods, communities, and small businesses that thrive on walkers, runners, and cyclists.

Back in 1996, when Brown was elected to the state Senate, she served as chair for the Ways and Means Committee in her first term. This unique position exposed her to dozens of projects around the state, and she was instrumental in working with counties and parks to bring about many of Eastern Washington’s most popular trails.

“Non-motorized trails and bridges are a tremendous addition to our quality of life. I am happy to have been part of funding as a legislator and advocate for the Centennial Trail at Mirabeau Point, the Fish Lake Trail, and the University District Gateway Bridge,” says Brown.

She is also quick to point out that Tom Foley, former Speaker of the House of US Representatives and the last Democrat to hold the job she is currently running for, truly paved the way for the success of the Centennial Trail, which is the backbone for several other trails in Spokane County and a magnet of economic development and community revitalization. Foley secured federal funding for the trail back in the late 80s, and his efforts kickstarted more federally funded projects that recently gained traction, such as the Ben Burr Trail and the Children of the Sun Trail.

 

Photo of Lisa Brown biking across bridge.

Photo: Jon Jonckers

 

In addition to her work helping to establish well-used and well-loved urban pathways, Brown is also a down-to-earth user of and supporter of many of the popular natural areas and trails in our region. She goes snowshoeing at Sherman Pass, hiking at Liberty Lake, and is a big fan of the Iller Creek trail in the Dishman Hills. She has run and walked Bloomsday “nine or ten times,” but quickly confides that for many of those years she was part of the brigade pushing strollers at the back.

Her personal love of outdoor recreation and advocacy for the quality of life we enjoy in Eastern Washington reveals just how deeply she is rooted here and dedicated to this region. Other projects Brown has gained support for that have benefitted our local communities and economy include the North Spokane Corridor, The Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute, and human services and community facilities throughout the region, including the Fox Theater, the Mobius Science Center, the renovated YMCAs and YWCAs, the Northwest Autism Center, and Crosswalk.

On a recent bike ride on the Fish Lake Trail, Brown and I talked openly about outdoor recreation as an economic engine, and the challenges of urban development, trail safety, and completing portions of many of our region’s exceptional pathways and trails. She knows all of the easy portions are usually done first, and the difficult projects are saved for others to handle, which takes a lot more work and support from communities and land owners and an ability to bring people together, something Brown has a history of pulling off.

Near the end of our ride, we were casually talking about maps, guides, and smartphone apps that people use to plan trips. When asked if she preferred the convenience of her phone or the wealth of details in a guidebook, her response came quick. “I love a guidebook, preferably by Rich Landers.”

While many of us prefer to keep our politics and outdoor pursuits separate, when there’s a candidate of Brown’s caliber who has actively championed the interests of hikers, runners, bicyclists, and other outdoor enthusiasts, it’s time to take notice. //

Jon Jonckers is a Senior Editor at Out There Outdoors, and he serves on the Board for the Friends of the Centennial Trail.

 

[Feature photo “Lisa Brown and her partner Bria McClatchey on the Fish Lake Trail” by Jon Jonckers.]