Prairie Line Trail links old Tacoma to new UWT

The News TribuneFebruary 6, 2013 

Come fall, the Chihuly chandelier in the University of Washington Tacoma library will have some competition in attracting visitors to the campus.

That’s when a major leg of Tacoma’s Prairie Line Trail is scheduled to open, turning the old railroad track bed that bisects the UWT into a place for walking, biking and imparting a little information about the area’s history.

Toward that last function, Gerald Tsutakawa has been commissioned to create a bronze sculpture for the trail memorializing the Japanese community that once lived in the area and the Japanese Language School they attended. The trail will include spaces for future placement of historic markers.

That’s important because of the role the Prairie Rail Line played in Tacoma’s formative years: It became the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1873.

The UWT’s plan for its part of the trail – arrived at after much listening to the public’s wants and concerns – is simple, yet inviting, incorporating remnants of the old rail line, including the tracks and signals. The Portland-based design firm Place is handling the $4 million project and has also been hired by the City of Tacoma to design its part of the trail.

Eventually the trail will link the Brewery District, UWT, the Museum District and the Thea Foss Waterway. The goal is to connect that trail with the planned 6.5-mile Water Ditch Trail from downtown to South Tacoma. This urban trail system promises to be an attraction for residents and visitors alike.

The challenge will be for the city to work out the details for completing its part of the Prairie Line Trail on either side of UWT – south to the Brewery District and north to the Foss Waterway. Much depends on property agreements with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, successor to the Northern Pacific.

The UWT is providing momentum for the trail. Now it’s up to the city and BNSF to get on the same page and make it happen.

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