Talks of Foothills Trail improvements

The popular Foothills Trail – a ribbon of pavement interrupted by unimproved sections of bare ground – is presently a topic of conversation on two fronts.

The groundbreaking today is the first step to connecting the trail between South Prairie and Buckley

The popular Foothills Trail – a ribbon of pavement interrupted by unimproved sections of bare ground – is presently a topic of conversation on two fronts.

First came a Tuesday celebration that highlighted plans to complete some rather primitive sections of trail between Buckley and South Prairie. Second is the ongoing effort to get a bridge over the White River, a costly and tricky maneuver that would provide a trail link between Enumclaw and Buckley, connecting King and Pierce counties.

For the uninitiated, the Foothills Trail is a 19-mile attraction stretching between Puyallup and Buckley, passing through Orting and South Prairie as it follows an abandoned railroad right-of-way. It is used by walkers, joggers, bicyclists, equestrians and anyone else on a nonmotorized form of transportation. It is particularly near and dear to the hearts of members of the Foothills Trail Coalition, a nonprofit entity that works with government agencies to develop the trail.

Ceremony in Buckley

This week’s groundbreaking ceremony in Buckley celebrated planned improvements for the section of trail between Buckley and South Prairie. Festivities took place just south of town at a site some residents will recall as the one-time home to Fitzer’s Mill. It’s in a stretch of trail that parallels state Route 165, perhaps better known to locals as the “Buckley straits.”

Speakers during the June 7 event included Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson, who also serves as a member of the Trails Coalition Board of Direction. With her were Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy; Pierce County Councilman Dan Roach; the county’s Parks and Recreation Director, Tony Tipton; and Foothills Rails to Trails President Buzz Grant.

They were on hand to celebrate coming improvements to two sections of the Foothills Trail that opened in 2008, but remain unpaved. Construction work will include paving and installing pin-pile bridge sections over wet portions of the trail alignment. Once construction is completed, trail users should have a much improved experience, replacing the muddy conditions common to the area of trail running south from Buckley.

The construction project – which is to be completed by the end of 2017 – is being funded through the group effort of federal, state and county entities, as well as the Foothills Rails to Trails Coalition.

About the bridge

With the possibility of using a bridge that recently spanned the Puyallup River now scratched, planning begins anew.

When considering a bridge to link the two counties, the longstanding plan has been for a bridge that would accommodate foot traffic and, in a pinch, allow emergency vehicles to cross the river. Engineers studied the possibility of using the bridge that was replaced last year in Puyallup. It now sits, connected to nothing, in a field just off Meridian Avenue on Puyallup’s north side.

Johnson said the financial implications were roughly the same – whether using the Puyallup bridge or building a new structure – but a new bridge will last longer and eliminate the need for some costly upkeep.

Bridges do not come cheap and, for years, four primary entities have considered funding options and opportunities: involved are both King and Pierce counties, plus the cities of Buckley and Enumclaw.

The city and Enumclaw and Mayor Liz Reynolds have actively been recruiting trail advocates to write letters in support of a grant request that, if funded, would pay the majority of the bridge cost.

The estimated cost of a new bridge is $3.1 million and project partners are currently seeking a grant of $2.85 million from the Washington State Recreational Conservation Office.

Reynolds has been soliciting letters of support in hopes the local request will gain favor with the RCO.

In conjunction with the grant application – according to information provided by the city of Enumclaw – King County is working on the design element of a mile-long stretch of pavement that would connect a new bridge with the existing Foothills Trail in Enumclaw. Construction, if all goes well, is expected in 2018.

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