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By boaters, for boating
“Washington got in line early for the
BIG program largely because the state
already had an agency created to support recreational boating,” says Kennedy.
“Actually a boater-led citizen initiative
created RCO in 1964 to put a portion of
the state-levied gasoline taxes that boaters pay back into boating. So in many
ways, it was the model for the federal
boating program that BoatU.S. helped
shepherd through Congress about 20
years later, known then as the Wallop-Breaux Trust Fund” (now The Sport Fish
Restoration and Boating Trust Fund).
Today RCO administers 15 grant
programs for a wide variety of outdoor
recreation activities, from archery ranges
to off-road vehicle areas, as well as conservation and habitat restoration. RCO
averages 230 grants every year totaling
about $60 million, according to its director, Kaleen Cottingham, who says boating access is still a core mission.
“We get 1 percent of the state tax
on boat gas and put it into projects like
building new launch ramps or expanding
existing sites as well as facility upgrades,
Cottingham says. “That amounts to
about $17 million a year that we can put
into matching grants to benefit owners
of small boats, a huge number of whom
are anglers. It’s a perfect complement
to the federal program for nontrail-
erable boats.” Cottingham, who does
her boating with family in the San Juan
Islands, says the agency depends on its
Boating Programs Advisory Committee.
That committee, made up of knowledge-
able people from the boating community
and the marine industry as well as state
natural resource agencies, evaluates all
applications for grants from both the
state Boating Facilities Program and for
submission to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service for BIG funds.
“RCO has been doing a great job of
capitalizing on the funds available and
putting them to good use for the ben-
efit of boaters all around Washington,”
says Wayne Gilham, a Tacoma-based
marine surveyor and current president
of the Recreational Boaters Association
of Washington (RBAW). “The whole
process is very transparent, and that’s
what we love about RCO; everything is
Gilham’s association is made up of
representatives of 50 yacht clubs around
the state, but its mission is to represent
the entire community of recreational
boaters in Washington, and RBAW has
worked closely with RCO for years.
“The agency is an unknown gem for
a lot of Washington boaters even though
it’s really passing through some of our
own funding for needed projects,” he says.
“Then, all of a sudden, something out
there is better for boating than it was, and
it’s because of funds that came from boaters in support of both the state and federal
facilities programs. And they say, ‘Hey,
where did they get the money to do that?’
Well, it came from you and me. And RCO
has been doing a great job of putting boating dollars to good use for all of us.”
Go to rco.wa.gov to learn more about
Washington’s Recreation and Conservation
Office. Visit BoatUS.com/Gov for
more about BIG, the federal Boating
Infrastructure Grant Program.