Crews making progress on Foothills Trail

If everything falls into place, fans of the popular Foothills Trail will be trekking a continuous ribbon of pavement from Buckley to Puyallup by the end of the year.

Summertime projects will see asphalt added to unimproved sections of the well-used trail and a bridge repaired. And, in the biggest development in recent trail history, a vacant stretch will be added, thus connecting Buckley to the rest of the Foothills Trail world.

Some trail history

For the uninitiated, the Foothills Trail makes use of an abandoned, historic railroad bed. The full trail is a popular destination for bicyclists, while hikers enjoy shorter segments of the trail.

The paved sections are 12 feet wide and limited to nonmotorized use. There is a soft shoulder path for equestrians.

The Foothills Trail has been constructed as finances, permits and land ownership has allowed. Already finished are paved sections from Meeker to the South Prairie Creek, along with a two-mile section in Buckley.

What’s happening now

All it took to see significant additions to the Foothills Trail was money and political cooperation – and a fair amount of both. The tab for this year’s work will come to approximately $3.2 million, a sum that was divided among a handful of partners. Making it happen was a grant from the Puget Sound Regional Council, a financial allocation by the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office and a partnership at the Pierce County level between Parks and Recreation and Public Works. On top of that was a generous donation from the nonprofit Foothills Rails to Trails Coalition.

Presently, trail users coming from the west can pass through Orting and roughly follow South Prairie Creek all the way to the tiny town of South Prairie. At that point, they run into a barricade at the creek.

On the Buckley end, the paved trail leads just a bit south from the city limits. The unpaved part is now officially off-limits until construction is complete. The unpaved portion dead-ends as the trail approaches South Prairie.

A purchase of land through an existing trailer park has allowed for a link that will connect the two trail pieces, work that is now under way. Theresa Turpin, project manager for Pierce County, reports that plans call for the work to be done by the end of the year.

But, she cautions, all bets are off if October brings heavy rains. A continued stretch of rain could push completion into 2018, she said.

Also in the works is a plan to replace a footbridge damaged by falling trees in 2014. Turpin said a contract has been awarded to get the bridge replaced, something also expected to happen by the end of the year.

Work on the “upper section” of the trail – the portion closer to Buckley – is nearly finished, Turpin reported. There’s a wetland area that needs to be mitigated and the county will construct an awning where the trail passes under state Route 162; debris can be kicked to the side by motorists, falling onto trail users below.

Included in the upper section is a “pinpile” bridge that will keep trail users away from the mud and muck that plagued the area. The bridge was a major undertaking, measuring 2,850 feet in length.

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