Earlier this fall, REI Co-op and Facebook each announced they had individually invested $1 million in capital funds to the Eastrail Partners nonprofit, the work of which circles around the Eastrail, a 42-mile-long trail that had previously been used as a railroad line. It runs on the east side of Lake Washington, from Renton up to Snohomish County, and connects the various communities via non-motorized routes.
“It’s great to have this momentum,” Eastrail Partners Executive Director Katherine Hollis said during an October interview with 425 Business.
So far, $93 million has been invested to purchase and revamp the trail corridor, according to a press release. About $233 million is still needed if the Eastrail is to become the “multifaceted community asset” its supporters envision.
The goal is to have a fully connected Eastrail by 2025.
The Eastrail Partners group recently was established, in part, to bolster opportunities for recreation and transportation in the region through an improved Eastrail, since the trail’s expansive reach fosters community connections but also transit connectivity for cities like Renton, Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue, and others. Notably, the Eastrail is scheduled to help provide additional access to four Sound Transit Link light rail stations coming in the next few years.
According to the release, the partners work to unite the Eastside communities, governments, private sector, and nonprofits, and “convene and catalyze advocacy and community engagement for the trail and establish community awareness to build diverse support.” REI and Facebook were driven to support efforts because they recognized the Eastrail’s potential to increase green space access, recreation opportunities, and transportation options to Eastsiders, according to the release.
Hollis said that REI, a Washington business, has been supportive of Eastrail improvement for years, and that when deciding on its one-time headquarters (which has since been sold) in Bellevue’s Spring District, that location was chosen partially because of Eastrail connections.
REI and Facebook’s connection to the Eastrail, and each other, relates to the Wilburton Segment of the trail through Bellevue. Owned by King County, this section runs past REI’s Bellevue store and its former Spring District headquarters — a location that is being sold to Facebook as REI shifts its model to make it more mobile. “
At REI, we believe in convening diverse groups for greater collective impact,” explained Eric Artz, REI Co-op president and CEO, in the release. “The Eastrail is one of the most innovative trail projects in the region. … We believe wholeheartedly in this work and on behalf of our 1.4 million members and nearly 3,000 employees in the area are thrilled to be a part of this big step forward.”
Facebook officials expressed a similar sentiment. Hollis noted that the social-media giant’s show of support indicates an interest in “putting down roots” in the area. “At Facebook, we believe in the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” said Vijaye Raji, head of office and vice president of entertainment at Facebook. “We are honored to make this donation to Eastrail Partners connecting diverse communities and businesses on the Eastside.”
What comes next?
At the time of the announcement, King County Executive Dow Constantine praised the investment for helping accelerate work on the Eastrail — especially as it relates to connecting four of the area’s 10 lightrail stations slated to open by 2023.
In early October, Hollis said in an interview with 425 Business that it’s likely that REI’s and Facebook’s contributions will be used to invest in the renovation of a trail section that can be covered with about $2 million. It still was a little early to establish a precise timeline and other details, though.
In terms of what Eastsiders can expect from Eastrail work in the near term, Hollis invoked the work currently happening on the trail itself on a section south of I-90, as part of an I-405 widening project. Currently, a big focus is on the north section of trail near Woodinville, she said.
“I’m hoping to see that the rail and spikes actually get pulled in the next handful of months, and then the trail getting laid next summer,” Hollis said.
With Kirkland corridor and Redmond central connector sections opened, Hollis said the ongoing effort is simply continuing piecing together and working toward a fully connected trail.
Hollis emphasized that Eastrail efforts and support are wide-ranging and collaborative — characteristics integral in making it a cohesive Eastside resource.
“We’re really excited to be working not only with all of the governmental entities that are involved in this, but starting to really connect with community members on what they would like to see in an effort like this, for it to really be a resource for them and their family and their community,” Hollis said.
For more information about the Eastside Partners nonprofit and its efforts, visit eastrailpartners.org.