The Pacific Northwest is renowned for its towering Cascade Range, the salty air of Pacific seaways, its lush greenery, and its temperate rainforest climate. In Washington, the King County Regional Trail System is one of the nation’s most extensive multiuse off-road systems with hundreds of miles of trails linking urban, suburban, and rural areas.
Thanks to long-term vision, effective planning, and cooperation between government agencies and the local horse community, equestrians now and in the future can enjoy all that this spectacular region has to offer.
Seattle, Washington’s most populated city, is located in King County. The county’s regional trail system can serve as a model for equine-friendly trails in and around urban areas in other parts of the country.
This impressive network of shared-use paths has proven popular for such activities as bicycling, hiking, walking, skating, dog walking, and, of course, horseback riding.
King County Trails Coordinator Robert Foxworthy notes that the trail system provides another key advantage for local equestrians: convenient access to an even larger network of backcountry trails and land. The trail system’s approximate 185 miles link more than 25 parks, working forests, and natural areas throughout King County.
Over the last decade, King County has acquired forest conservation easements on more than 200,000 acres of private and publicly owned forest lands along the trails.
Planning is Key
“It made sense to include equestrians in the mix of potential users when the regional trails were first planned, particularly on regional trails in more rural areas,” said Foxworthy, pointing out the popularity of horses in the region.
“Some trails with heavy congestion in urban areas may not allow equestrians for safety reasons,” Foxworthy adds. “But, in other instances, trail planning has gone the extra mile to include horses. “
The King County Comprehensive Plan and Open Space Plans highlight the county’s recognition of the importance of maintaining equestrian trails. Implementation policies call for the provision of equestrian facilities, adoption of land-use regulations that support trail preservation, and management of programs that provide incentives for land owners to provide trail opportunities, such as a public benefit rating system.
Many of the trails protected through these provisions eventually become part of the King County Park System.
A Spirit of Cooperation
King County illustrates how cooperation between government agencies, municipalities, and equestrian groups benefits all parties.
“The regional trails are an ever-growing network of paths owned, developed, and managed by multiple agencies,” says Foxworthy. “King County owns and maintains the largest part of the network, but the Washington State Department of Transportation, Seattle, and other cities have their own regional trails that add to the overall network.
“For more rural areas, King County Parks also created a backcountry trails crew that focuses solely on maintaining and constructing the backcountry trails.”
To ensure continued access to land for equine use, horse owners must make their needs known in local land use issues, as advocated by the Equine Land Conservation Resource.
In King County, a strong rapport between government and area equestrian groups, such as the King County Executive Horse Council, demonstrates how this relationship works well.
Dedicated KCEHC officers and volunteers advocate for the horse industry, equestrian way of life, and protection of land for equine use.
Further, the council keeps track of legislation that will affect trails and the equestrian lifestyle, receives notices of pending development, and determines whether or not these developments will impact trails.
Foxworthy’s staff is also working with a local horse group interested in building an equestrian facility that could include a network of trails connecting to public land.
Such joint efforts illustrate how public private partnerships between equestrian groups and local government can expand opportunities for all equestrians, while protecting access to land for equine-related activities.
For more on the King County Parks and its trail systems, go to www.kingcounty.gov/recreation/parks/trails/regionaltrailssystem.aspx. For more on the Equine Land Conversation Resource, go to www.elcr.og.