In whisking hikers from busy downtown streets and light rail stations out to hundreds of miles of backcountry trails, Trailhead Direct represents what outdoor recreation groups and transit planners alike believe will be increasingly necessary in years to come: an alternative to driving for people who want to spend some time in nature.

“Not everyone has a car,” says Yvette Lopez-Ledesma, the Urban to Wild Director for the Wilderness Society. “Transit agencies need to ensure that whatever their limitations, people can access public lands with public resources like transit.” With interest in outdoor recreation booming during the pandemic, an analysis by the Outdoor Industry Association found that newer participants in activities such as hiking are more likely to be female, younger, living in an urban area and more ethnically diverse than existing participants.

The Adhikaris are a prime example. The family lives in Kent, a city in south King County that is considered relatively affordable and popular with first-generation immigrants. Their seven-person household—two parents, three siblings, Kamal and his girlfriend—can’t all fit in the one car. So in years past, Adhikari would make two round trips in each direction just for a family hike.

“It took hours,” he says. “In that amount of time, you could already be up on Poo Poo Point.”

That changed in 2019 when King County Metro, which runs bus service throughout the county, began offering the Trailhead Direct service from the light rail station in Tukwila, about 8 miles north of Kent, to Poo Poo Point. Adhikari would drive some family members to the Tukwila station’s park and ride and the rest would catch a ride with a friend. Then everyone would pile onto the Trailhead Direct bus. Or they could all take a bus from Kent to Tukwila and never get in their car in the first place, although that ended up making for a long trip. The $2.75 fare was the same as any local bus ride.

“Black, Latinx, and Asian communities are three times less likely to live near parks and open spaces as White communities,” says Jackie Ostfeld, director of the Sierra Club’s Outdoors For All campaign. “It’s an environmental injustice that there are so many people who don’t have access to parks and green spaces.”

Read the full article about public transit by Gregory Scruggs at YES! Magazine.