For the many dedicated users of the Foothills Trail, a long-awaited dream appears headed toward political reality.
The full expanse of the trail has come with great successes and occasional setbacks, with pavement put into place and bridges built. And, while sections have been joined together in a ribbon of asphalt, one hurdle has remained: connecting King and Pierce counties – tying together Enumclaw and Buckley – with a bridge across the White River.
More than ever before, the political will to meet that lofty goal seems to be drawing nearer.
Project boosters this year went before the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office with a request for a $2.85 million grant, looking for the last piece of the financial puzzle that would lead to the completion of the Enumclaw-Buckley link. When the dust settled, the RCO placed the trail project No. 2 on its priority list.
Trail boosters hope such a high rating will assure funding by the state.
That’s the last sticking point, though. The RCO can make its recommendations and set its priorities, but the flow of dollars is determined by the state legislature during its budgeting process. When state senators and members of the House of Representatives gather in January, they’ll face their every-other-year “long session” and hammer out a laundry list of spending packages.
Getting a bridge across the White River has long been a focal point for the two cities and two counties. And, while all have worked toward the shared goal, it was King County that carried the ball when going to the RCO.
If all goes as hoped and the trail/bridge project is funded in 2017, it would provide the final piece in a funding package totaling more than $10 million. The remainder of the needed money would come primarily from the voter-approved King County Parks, Trails and Open Space levy, with smaller contributions from the city of Buckley and the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition.
The entire $10 million project would see completion of an 12-foot-wide paved trail from Enumclaw south to the White River, a span of 1.1 miles, plus a short trail segment on the Buckley side. But the bulk of the money would go toward a bridge spanning the river that would be designed primarily for pedestrians and bicyclists. Plans call for a span of 340 feet.
Some of the cost stems from a plan to design a bridge that could be used, in a pinch, by emergency vehicles.
Connecting Pierce and King counties would be one of the final significant steps in completing a 20-mile trail system for non-motorized recreation. The trail will eventually boast a continuous ribbon from Puyallup, through unincorporated McMillin and on to South Prairie and Buckley, before crossing into King County. Plans for completing a couple of smaller, unimproved stretches of trail are being addressed with separate funding.
Included in the grant application were a large handful of letters of support, coming from cities, other government agencies and civic groups.
Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson, a trail user and board member of the Rails-to-Trails Coalition, wrote that the Foothills Trail is “our largest park, our most popular park and our cheapest park to maintain.”
She added that Buckley has “worked on and been committed to this project for over 10 years and look forward to the construction of this bridge and putting the ‘missing link’ into place.”
Other letters of support were forwarded by such diverse entities as King County Fire District 28, Enumclaw Rotary, the Enumclaw School District, Buckley Kiwanis and Rainier School.