Washington State Recreation & Conservation Office – A great source of funding for your next public waterfront project

Preparing an application for Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) grant funding can seem like a daunting task that may discourage owners from applying. The process is rigorous, but it is a great source of funding not to overlook.

About RCO

For those not familiar with the RCO, it is a state agency with a huge impact on the quality of life in Washington. RCO is a driving force behind funding an incredible range of outdoor recreation and conservation projects that greatly enhance the ability to access and experience  the outdoors of Washington state. Formerly, the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation (IAC), RCO distributed over $1.75 billion in grant funds between 1964 and 2012. In addition to state funding sources, such as gas tax attributed to boaters and lease rents for state-owned aquatic lands, the RCO brings into the state and distributes an average of $54 million in federal revenue each biennium.

A Multitude of Grant Programs

RCO administers 15 different grant programs and funds outdoor recreational facilities, ranging from park property acquisition to the majority of the public boat ramps throughout the state to significant water access facilities. These recreational facilities not only contribute to the quality of life but also to the economy of the state.  According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, outdoor recreational activities contribute more than $22.5 billion in consumer spending annually to Washington’s economy.

More than one of the RCO grant programs focuses on providing the public access to the amazing range of water resources in Washington from the saltwater of Puget Sound to mountain lakes to Eastern Washington reservoirs. This provides access for pedestrians, fishing, power boating, kayaking, and other watercraft. The Boating Facilities Program (BFP) and Boating Infrastructure Grants (BIG) focus on providing boat access for small powerboats and larger powerboats respectively. The National Marine Manufacturers Association ranks Washington one of the top four boating states ( .

Boating in Washington State is like no other boating experience in the U.S. Located close to Canada, the waters and scenery of the Washington coastline, rivers, and lakes is nothing short of breathtaking. Plus, the fishing in the Pacific Northwest is absolutely incredible, with a natural setting reminiscent of times long ago.

Who Can Apply?

The grant funds are available to both state and local agencies, including State Parks, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, cities, counties, tribes, and Port Districts. Reid Middleton has had the pleasure of designing over 80 RCO funded projects throughout the years, ranging from boat ramps to guest moorage to waterfront parks and public fishing piers. This includes design of the Don Armeni Boat Ramp in West Seattle in the 1960s to the expansion of the Don Morse Park Boat Ramp in 2013 for the City of Chelan. We provide project applicants with information and guidance on the application process as well as plans and cost estimates, which the RCO likes to see in their applications.

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Don’t Be Intimidated by the Application Process

RCO has one of the best online systems PRISM for entering, tracking, and reporting for their grant funded projects. PRISM includes detailed information on over 11,000 projects!  PRISM provides real-time accessible information with a customized sorting feature to display results from geographic distribution of projects to source of funds and type of project. All of this is available to the public.

RCO’s grant process is open and competitive. A staff and citizen’s committee review and rank each application, and the RCO board makes final funding decisions based on available funds. The RCO staff is great to work with and extremely helpful to project applicants, providing assistance and insight to moving the best grant application forward.  For example, RCO staff member, Rory Calhoun, is an expert on accessibility requirements and incorporating opportunities for recreational facilities, assuring that the funded facilities are accessible by all.

RCO funded projects do come with restrictions, such as preserving the funded facility for public use, and requirements such as reporting and documentation for each project. However, with helpful grant managers, the PRISM system, and a well-organized and fair application process, obtaining funds from RCO for public outdoor recreation projects is a winning solution to funding facilities that promote the great outdoors of Washington state.