Trail Advocacy in Olympia

Trail Advocacy in Olympia

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Two years ago, my friend Anne and I got a wild hair and signed up to participate in Hiker Rally Day (I think it was actually called Hiker Lobby Day then).  I had NO idea what I was getting myself into, I just wanted to go down and support trails and talk with my representatives about how much I love them.  How hard could that be?

I learned SO much, what it was and wasn’t, and vowed to do it every year.  But of course, as I learned in 2016, turns out Hiker Rally Day is every other year.

Anne couldn’t join me this year so I bravely signed up by myself.  If you know me, you know I am an introvert by nature so this is no small feat.  One of the things that I learned in 2015 was that unless you go with a neighbor, you could end up doing the meetings with legislators by yourself as it is based on your district.  Not a problem if you live in Seattle where your odds are greater, but you don’t know if someone from your district will be there until the day of.

To lessen the anxiety of going by myself, I did sign up as a carpool and a couple gals from north of me joined for the trip down. This also meant getting to use the HOV lane through Seattle traffic  Bonus.  Not that it ended up making a difference, traffic was HORRIBLE.  Darn rain.

The night before I did a little studying up on what the WTA has made a legislative priority for 2017.  That was another thing I learned from last time.  You don’t just go and talk about why you love trails.  You also help share information about what the issues are facing trails in congress.  I know that what the WTA puts forth is not the same thing that is on everyone’s list of trail priorities, but they are the largest advocates for trails in our state and they do know how to present things in a way that will see action.

We started our day at the Women’s Club of Olympia; checking in, picking up packets and finding seats in a room filled with hikers anxious to advocate for trails and public lands.  Last year I don’t think we had more than 50-60 folks, this year the number present was at least double that.  They reported 250 RSVPs for today’s event.  They are thinking to plan for 500 for the next one!

I will say that most of the participants are retirees who don’t have to work on a Wednesday and the younger generation were mostly folks from WTA, including the youth ambassadors.  There were a few kids present with their parents, sounds like a good excuse for skipping school to me!

Our packets included information about our legislators and handouts to give them with the priorities we will be talking about today, times for our individual appointments today, and the schedule for the day.

We met the new WTA executive director, the outdoor recreation advisor to the governor and then heard from the WTA lobbyist.  WTA joins with several other groups advocating for trails and public lands to have a full-time lobbyist in Olympia.  She talked with us about the atmosphere in the capitol this week (crazy busy) and this year the budget is  tight with such things like having to come up with funds necessary to meet new basic education requirements from the McCleary ruling to the tune of over 2 billion dollars.  She also gave us tips on bringing our message to our representatives.

This is one of my favorite aspects of attending the rally day, connecting with what is happening in the legislature and being a part of the process.  Meeting with my representatives also really helps the make the process of calling or writing my legislators for issues that are important to me less intimidating.  I feel like I make a difference, more than reposting memes on Facebook.

After the training, we then group together with others in our district to make a plan for meeting with our individual senator and representatives and what we each hope to address.  WTA gives us a list of talking points and we pick the ones that speak to us and add our personal anecdotes. Our job is not necessarily to explain what a particular bill or funding is but what it means to US.  WTA and the lobbyists have already presented the information.  We are there to personalize it.

Last year, I was the only one from my district and I met in the appointments by myself.  WTA does offer to send a staff person with you if you don’t want to go by yourself but I had decided just to be brave and go solo. As would be expected, districts in Seattle have a larger amount of constituents that attend and those of us in the outlying area may only have one or two. This year, with the increase in people interested in activism, I lucked out and had a partner!

 After getting to know our fellow constituents, we walked together to the capitol campus to take a group photo.  Unlike last year where the spring was in the air with sunshine and cherry blossoms, the day was gray and wet.  It didn’t do much to dampen our enthusiasm for sharing the message of the importance of supporting legislation for public lands, however. We took a quick picture on the capitol steps and headed inside to drier places.

At this point, we are on our own for the rest of the day to meet with our senators and representatives.  Most of us took a break for lunch or visited the Big Tent Outdoor Recreation Rally that happens the same day as Hiker Rally Day.  WTA has a room available to eat, meet with your team, and wait between your appointments.   The staff is also there to answer questions and coffee and snacks are provided. Clif bars, anyone?

This wouldn’t be a Must Hike Must Eat post without mentioning what I did for lunch, right?  I had tossed a bunch of snacks in my bag like fruit, bars and jerky but one of the gals I had carpooled down with wanted to treat me to lunch in exchange for the ride so we headed over to the cafeteria available on campus.

They had your standard fare: soup, sandwiches, burgers (veggie available) with fries and soda machine.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a well stocked salad bar and a deli case filled with healthy prepackaged options like salads and vegetable sticks with hummus.  I didn’t see this until after walking through the line so I had chosen a roast beef sandwich on gluten free bread which I supplemented with fruit I had brought.  Not bad, I thought.

We ate in the waiting room and we had an opportunity to get to know our fellow hikers and hear about why they had come down to Olympia. I sat with some hikers from Island County and heard about the trails being proposed on Whidbey, a place I have been trying to get to for more hiking.

Flexibility is a big part of Hiker Rally Day.  My first appointment was at 1pm but when we arrived at the office we were told it would actually be at 2:45pm. Okay.  Our next one wasn’t until 2pm, so we headed over to the Big Tent event.

The Big Tent Outdoor Recreation Coalition happens at the same time as the rally and is a great activity while you are waiting for your appointments with your representatives.  They even served Ivar’s clam chowder and hot chocolate.

There were quite a few organizations in attendance including:

And companies like REI, MSR, Theo Chocolates, Oberto, Nikwax, Cabela’s were also there with  free goodies!  Several booths had ways to advocate for trails, including postcards and those ever popular #hashtags.

This burned just enough time for us to then head over to meet with our Senator as he was in between Senate meetings.

We only waited a few minutes before we got to sit with him and talk about trails.  The meeting went really well and it was good to hear that he was in agreement with the idea of funding programs like No Child Left Inside and battling the privatization of public lands.

After this, we dropped off materials at one of our representatives who wasn’t able to meet with us today.  I did meet with him two years ago, as well as write him regarding current issues, and I know he is supportive.  Our last appointment at 2:45pm ended up being with the legislative aide because the representative was delayed in another meeting.  Our lobbyist had said that this is common and often better because of their influence in the office.

Then, it was back to the car and a long trip home after a satisfying day advocating for trails and public lands.  I was glad I had carpooled down because it was an opportunity to debrief and share about our day.  And trail chat!

Now, don’t worry if you couldn’t make it to the event this year.  You can always mark your calendar for 2019.  if you don’t want to wait that long, the Washington State Trails Coalition has their next conference in 2018, another way to get involved for trails and public lands.

OR, go over and sign up with the WTA trail advocacy folks and help out all year-long.  And don’t forget that trail work.  You can also use the legislative hotline to let your reps know how important trails are to you at 1-800-562-6000.

For more information about how Hiker Rally Day works, head over and check out their FAQs page.  You can also check out their blog post on the event, HEREYou won’t see me in this year’s group pic because I was a short person stuck behind a tall one!

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