Kayaking congressman seeks federal boost for marine trail

The island’s own kayaking congressman wants to raise the profile of Puget Sound’s Cascadia Marine Trail, a 150-mile long network of campsites for human and wind-powered boats.

The Washington Water Trails Association, the group that established and oversees the trail, says the federal designation that Congressman Jay Inslee seeks could have special meaning for Kitsap County. In June, the WWTA had to remove three Kitsap sites from the trail after county officials made it known that no camping – even the bare bones, low-impact kind the water trail users adhere to – is allowed in county parks.

Federal designation could give boost funding, protections and clout necessary to expand the network closer to the WWTA’s goal of over 150 sites.

Inslee Seeks Federal Recognition for Marine Trail
By Tristan Baurick

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee believes dipping paddles in Puget Sound can make it a better place.

That’s why the Bainbridge Democrat has proposed a bill in Congress that would boost federal recognition of the Cascadia Marine Trail, a network of more than 50 shoreline campsites for non-motorized boaters. The trail stretches from Olympia to Point Roberts near the Canadian border, and includes seven stops on the Kitsap Peninsula.

“This will help shine a federal light on Puget Sound and help in the larger recovery efforts,” Inslee said. “And the more natural recreation we have in the Sound, the better it will be.”

Inslee’s bill directs the National Park Service to consider granting the 150-mile route national scenic trail designation. If approved, the designation would make the Cascadia trail the first scenic trail mapped entirely through water.

The Cascadia trail marks designated campsites for human and sail-powered boaters. Often in public parks, most of the trail’s sites are little more than a flat patch of ground with a sign nearby encouraging adherence to “zero impact” camping principles.

The route was granted Millennium Trail status in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, marking it as one of the 16 best long-distance trails in the nation.

The elevated national scenic trail designation could mean more federal money, additional protections and increased public awareness, Inslee said.

“This would lift the visibility of this tremendous asset and place it in the list of other paddling meccas,” said Inslee, who serves on the House panel with jurisdiction over the park service.

An avid kayaker, Inslee’s early morning ritual is to ply Eagle Harbor’s calm waters at dawn. He’s also launched from Bainbridge Island’s two Cascadia trail sites: Fay Bainbridge and Fort Ward state parks.

He says his early days rowing near Seattle with his father, a biology teacher, gave him an intimate connection to the Sound. According to Inslee, getting more people to take multi-day trips using vessels linked to the natural elements can strengthen their reverence for the Sound. That reverence may, in turn, lead to daily practices that reduce the degradation of the marine environment, he said.

It also means more people will recreate closer to home.

“You don’t have to burn fossil fuels to get to far flung places,” he said. “We have a beautiful place right here at home.”

Other Puget Sound congressmen have signed on to the bill, including Rick Larson, Adam Smith, Jim McDermott and Norm Dicks.

The bill also received a strong endorsement from the Washington Water Trails Association, which established the Cascadia trail in 1993.

WWTA Executive Director Julie Anderson said the designation could help in her group’s efforts to expand the trail system from 54 sites to more than 150.

“Our goal is to have sites every 5 to 8 miles, which is important especially when you’re a non-motorized boater and you get hit with bad weather,” she said.

Designation may also help bring some sites back, she said.

WWTA recently removed the three sites managed by Kitsap County off the Cascadia trail route. County officials notified the WWTA in June that camping is not permitted in county parks, and that an earlier agreement allowing non-motorized boat camping would no longer be recognized.

County parks Director Chip Faver said the county doesn’t have the resources or infrastructure to support campers. He also explained that a park employee possibly overstepped county policy by granting the WWTA an exemption.

The WWTA and park officials hope to negotiate a compromise in the coming

months, Faver said.

Anderson hopes Inslee’s bill will give the trail enough clout to ensure that more sites are added than deleted.

“Everywhere camps are available on Puget Sound for motorized vehicles,” she said. “Non-motorized vessels are kind of treated like the smaller stepchild.

“This (bill) will help us in our work to maintain what we already have and add new sites in the future.”

For more information on the Cascadia Marine Trail and the Washington Water Trails Association, visit wwta.org.