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Foothills Trail -- Another stretch to be completed this summer; link to Buckley is nest on boosters' work plans

By Jessica Keller, The Courier-Herald Wednesday, April 7, 2004 2:29 PM CDT
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The pace is picking up in paving and linking the Foothills Trail, and by late summer trail enthusiasts will have an even longer trail to enjoy.

The unpaved area between the South Prairie and Orting sections, part of which runs next to South Prairie Creek, will see construction beginning May 12. Workers have 105 working days to complete the three and a half to four mile section of trail, and it is anticipated to be finished by August.

"That will indeed be one of the most beautiful areas and the most sensitive areas, of course, as it runs along the South Prairie Creek, which is a salmon-spawning area," said Ernie Bay, president of the Foothills Trail Coalition.

The Foothills Trail, a 12-foot wide asphalt trail used for walking, bicycles and skating and also has a soft shoulder path for horses, will be more than 12 miles long after the South Prairie/Orting link is completed.

Bay said it will be satisfying to see another section of the trail completed, but the completion of the trail has been a long time coming.

The effort to create one single trail began in 1984 when two people, one of whom was Buckley's Doug (Doc) Tate, generated the idea. The Foothills Trail Coalition was formed in 1987 to assist the Pierce County Parks Department in building the trail. Bay said the trail has generated a lot of controversy over the years, but the idea to see a completed trail has hung on.

"Well, you always meet with much of opposition when you're putting a trail in," Bay said, stating a lot of the opposition came from absentee land owners.

Of the towns not in favor of the trail, Orting presented the biggest opposition, but Bay said it is now one of the most supportive towns.

"The only opposition we face now really is Carbonado," Bay said.

Carbonado has been reticent about the trail from the very beginning, Town Councilman Jay Argo said.

"Carbonado is different from the other communities," he said, adding the other cities just let the county come in and take over the trail for free.

"It's our own trail system, it's just not what the county envisions," he added.

Argo said when Burlington Northern Railroad abandoned the railroad right of way, instead of the land going to individual land owners, it was turned over to the town in order to keep the county and the trail out.

"They decided that 'if we don't want it, this is what we have to do to keep it out,'" Argo said.

But Argo points out it has been more than two years since the county or anybody else has approached the town about the trail, and the trail is not a concern to town residents.

And other than the initial response given to the county by Carbonado concerning the trail, the town hasn't had anything to do with the rest of the trail construction.

"It's not like Carbonado has delayed it one day," Argo said.

In fact, the trail has become a non-issue for the town because the trail has a long way to go before it reaches Carbonado town limits.

Argo does think, however, the construction of the trail through Carbonado is inevitable, but he stated adamantly the town will not give up its land easily, and if the town does give up the land to the county, Carbonado expects some concessions in return.

"It's going to happen, sooner or later, and it's a good idea, don't get me wrong, it's a good idea, but not without some economic incentive for Carbonado," Argo said.

Because the town has little tax base and little money, it does not want to give up its prime piece of property, currently designated for commercial use, without receiving some kind of financial compensation and other benefits.

Argo said the trail runs dead-center of the 100-foot wide railroad right-of-way, which essentially prevents the town from doing anything else with the land if the trail is paved. He also doesn't think the trail would benefit the town financially if it was allowed to go through Carbonado, as the town doesn't have much to make people want to get off the trail. He said it would benefit the town a lot more financially if a gas station was built on the land, although Carbonado does not have any plans to see that happen.

That's why the town wants the trail to be worth its while economically, Argo said.

"And yes we're stubborn enough to just sit on it in the mean time and not care," he said.

"As it is, right now we're not getting nothing and we're not giving (the county) nothing."

Argo also said the town does not have the money to maintain the trail once it is paved and becomes the town's responsibility.

Bay argues the money to maintain the trail is less than street maintenance, and would cost the same as it would to maintain a park.

But the issue still has a couple of years at least, according to Bay - more, according to Argo - to reach Carbonado, and Argo said the town will deal with the issue when it comes.

In the mean time, more stretches of trail have to be completed.

After the South Prairie/Orting trail is completed, the highest priority will be paving the trail between South Prairie and Buckley, which is scheduled to begin in 2005, which Bay admits is being optimistic.

That particular trail, Bay said, is important because Buckley is one of the main hubs along the trail. It is also expected to be difficult as the trail will be moved to higher ground.

After that, the Foothills Trail will have to be connected from South Prairie to Wilkeson and then from Wilkeson to Carbonado.

The ultimate goal is to get the trail connected through Carbonado, where they can then connect to the trails in Mount Rainier National Park.

"But we're taking it one piece at a time," Bay said.

Jessica Keller can be reached at


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