Little trail projects add up to big South Sound trail network dream

It’s about a 17-mile bike ride from the Home Depot on Borgen Boulevard in north Gig Harbor to the heart of South Tacoma Way’s land of car dealerships.

It’s a trip not likely to show up on lists of classic routes (although biking over the Tacoma Narrows is definitely a must-do for South Sound residents), but it offers a glimpse into the future.

Slowly, the dream of a sprawling trail network connecting South Sound parks and communities is coming true.

Thanks to two recent trail building projects, the 17-mile trip from north Gig Harbor to South Tacoma requires spending less than three miles on roads.

On May 1, the city of Gig Harbor dedicated a new 1-mile section of the Cushman Trail. Two days prior, Tacoma dedicated a new section of the Water Flume Line Trail.

These trails can be linked relatively easily using the Scott Pierson Trail, creating a valuable resource for bike commuters, walkers, joggers, skate boarders and others.

Government agencies and volunteer groups around the South Sound have been working for decades to build trails they hope one day will link up, making it easy to navigate the region on foot or by bike.

And while it’s unclear how much of this network we’ll see completed in our lifetime, each project is a step in that direction.


As the new section of the Cushman Trail between 96th Street Northwest and Borgen Boulevard took shape, the phones started ringing more often at city of Gig Harbor offices.

“Those last few months, when it appeared done, people were calling wanting to know if they could use the trail,” said Trent Ward, a city engineer. “It’s been extremely popular.”

The Cushman Trail now extends 6.2 miles from near the Tacoma Narrows Bridges (and one end of the Scott Pierson Trail) to Borgen.

The trail undulates more than any other in the South Sound, giving Gig Harbor residents (no strangers to hills) a good workout.

At some points, the grade on the trail reaches 10 percent, a pitch you won’t find on the new section.

Ward says the new section was built to standards that will make it accessible to a wider range of people. The slope never exceeds 5 percent, and handrails and benches have been installed along the path.

The city had $3.4 million ($2.5 million from state and federal grants) to build the new section of trail. Trent said they finished under budget.

For now, the trail is complete, but there is hope it will eventually continue north to Purdy.


Building trails is complicated, says Said Seddiki, Tacoma project manager.

A recently completed section of the Water Flume Trail required exchanging property with the Tacoma School District, avoiding park habitat, and building a fence and installing lights to alleviate concerns of neighboring residence and business owners.

But Seddiki has no doubt it’s worth the work.

“I go out there and I see kids walking to school with their mothers,” Seddiki said of the $2.3 million Phase 2. “… People use it to get to work. And people jog on the trail without concern they might be hit by a car.”

Seddiki says the trail encourages physical activity and contributes to economic development by connecting commercial, residential and industrial areas.

The trail stretches 2.5 miles on the east side of South Tacoma Way, linking the site of the future Oak Tree Park (near South 74th Street and South Tacoma Way) to South Park (near South 47th Street and South Tacoma Way).

The trail also connects to the city’s active transportation corridor.

Two more phases of work are planned to push trail toward the Tacoma Dome area.


Recently, a short patch of trail was placed behind a new Pierce County facility situated between 122nd and 126th streets near Puyallup.

The 0.4-mile serpentine path wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy if it wasn’t for what it’s expected to become.

The section of trail is meant to eventually connect Heritage Park to a future trail project called the Cross County Commuter Connector.

The CCCC is “ripe for being (Pierce County’s) next trail project,” said Pierce County Parks and Recreation director Tony Tipton.

Not just because a trail from Heritage Park on South Hill to Metro Parks Tacoma’s Swan Creek Park would be a huge step forward in plans to build a regional trail network.

But also because one of the biggest obstacles in trail building — acquiring the right of way — isn’t likely to be much of a factor.

Most of the trail corridor is owned by Tacoma Water, Tipton said. A small section (maybe 5 percent, Tipton says) is owned by the Bonneville Power Administration and will require obtaining an easement.

“It’s a natural,” Tipton said.

The trail would cut diagonally from Heritage Park about 7 miles northwest to Swan Creek Park, delivering cyclists to a spot where they can access downtown Tacoma via Portland Avenue and other streets or just play in the new mountain bike park.

Along the way, the trail visits a developed piece of Pierce County Parks property known as Orange Gate.

What Tipton and other proponents would like to see is for the trail reach even farther. Heritage Park is already linked to South Hill Park by 1.2-mile trail. From there, the trail could be pushed to Meridian Habitat Park, then the McMillin Reservoir area and then, perhaps, even down into the valley, where it could link to the Foothills Trails.

These dreams take time, and money, but Tipton says the CCCC is a project that, should get it funding, “could go faster than most.”