History of the Foothills Trail
The Foothills trail is a rail to trail project. The rail history began in 1864, when the United States Congress gave the Northern Pacific Railroad Company sufficient land to construct a railroad between Ellensburg and Tacoma. In 1883, Northern Pacific was forced to complete its line from the midwest to Tacoma or forfeit millions of acres of land grants. This rail section east of South Prairie through Enumclaw and the Stampede Pass tunnel was completed in July 1887, finally connecting Tacoma and Ellensburg. In about 1874 the Northern Pacific began construction of the railroad line from Tacoma to Wilkeson to take advantage of the newly discovered coal resources in the Cascade foothills.
The Burlington Northern Railroad Company succeeded the Northern Pacific Railroad Company in managing the railroad line. By late 1986, the balance of the railroad line had been removed for salvage. Pierce County saw the opportunity to create the trail on the former rail line and worked with the salvage company to preserve the remaining trestles along the line. In October of 1990 the Pierce County Council passed Ordinance #90-6, establishing the Foothills Trail as a public linear park. Thus began the journey of constructing what is now the Foothills National Recreation Trail.
Current Trail and Progress
The Foothills Trail sits atop a historic railroad bed and snakes through the river valley southeast of Tacoma. This trail is a popular commuter route and recreational destination for bicyclists and equestrians, while hikers enjoy shorter, more manageable segments of the trail.
The main section of the Foothills Trail is now 19 miles long and growing, extending from Puyallup to Buckley (with some gaps). The Foothills Trail provides a safe, separated, non-motorized travel corridor for active transportation in Pierce County. Some sections of the Foothills Trail are very urban, especially along the Orting Highway. Other sections, such as along the Carbon River to South Prairie, provide natural views which enhance the traveler’s experience. The trail provides many recreation opportunities. For example, the South Prairie Foothills Trailhead is featured in the Puget Loop of the Audubon Great Washington State Birding Trail, on the Audubon, Washington web site. The trail along the Carbon River, just south of Orting, is also very popular with anglers during fishing season.
Two primary sections are planned to be improved by Pierce County Parks in 2016/2017. The EAST segment, referred to as Phase 2 of South Prairie to Buckley, is 1.3 miles. Construction on the East Segment will begin around mid-June 2016. This section of the trail will have a significant amount of pin-pile bridge to avoid wetland impacts. The pin-pile bridge length adds to that overall cost.
The WEST segment is anticipated to add an additional mile to the Foothill Trail; construction is anticipated to begin in February 2017. Additionally, the Switchback Bridge was lost due to a tree. The replacement structure is anticipated to be designed Fall of 2016 and construction should begin February 2017.
King County Parks/Enumclaw/Buckley/Pierce County/South Prairie/Foothills Rails to Trails Coalition are partnering on a grant to obtain funding to install a bridge over the White River. This bridge will provide a Foothills trail connection between Buckley and Enumclaw and connect King and Pierce Counties. Monica Leers with King County Parks is the lead on that project. The estimated cost is 3.1 Million and the project partners are seeking a 2.85 Million grant from the RCO for that work. If all goes well construction would start Fall of 2018.
Special thanks goes out to the funding partners for this trail construction. This includes the Federal Highways Administration, Washington State Department of Transportation, Puget Sound Regional Council – Rural Town Centers and Corridors, Washington Recreation and Conservation Office, and as always, the steadfast support of the Foothills Rails to Trails Coalition. These agencies have helped to fund the construction of this non-motorized transportation facility, located on a historic railroad corridor surrounded by natural beauty. This corridor is an integral part of the Foothills National Recreation Trail and the Pierce County Regional Trail system