4.3-mile trail is ‘transformational’ for Tacoma’s Eastside — and it’s finally complete

TACOMA, Wash. — As far back as 20 years, it’s been the dream of Tacomans to have access to a pedestrian and bicycle trail through the Eastside.

Just ask Tacoma City Council member Catherine Ushka, who lives in and represents residents in East Tacoma.

“The goal to have a multimodal access trail through here has been in vision since at least 2000, if not before,” Ushka said in an interview with The News Tribune on Friday. “So the steps to get here have been many and hard-fought.”

That fight is over.

The city completed the third and final phase of the Pipeline Trail within Tacoma city limits, which stretches 1.4 miles from 56th Street and Pipeline Road to the Tacoma-Pierce County line at East 72nd Street and Waller Road East.

The trail is ADA accessible with 12-foot wide asphalt surface, LED lighting, signage and benches. Cost of the project totaled $2.5 million.

“Every ability and age can enjoy this trail safely,” said Carrie Wilhelme, Safe Routes to School Coordinator for the city’s Public Works Department.

The trail segment is part of a larger 4.3-mile trail throughout the city, the first phase of which was completed in 2013, running from East 48th Street to East 56th Street. The second phase, stretching from East 40th Street to East 48th Street, was completed in 2019.

While construction technically was completed last fall for phase three, city staff held back on any grand opening events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping for fewer restrictions and better weather in the spring.

Now, the city hopes to make people aware the trail is open and ready for visitors, Wilhelme said.

The city is hosting various events along the trail in the month of May, including a “story walk,” where each page of the book “Counting on Community” by Innosanto Nagara is installed along the trail. There was scheduled to be a Plant Share and Talk on Saturday from 10-11:30 a.m. at the East 56th Street trailhead, where visitors could speak to the Tacoma Tree Foundation and get themselves a free plant. On May 22, 2nd Cycle Community Bike Shop is hosting a Women, Trans, Femme, and Non-Binary Bike Ride starting at 12:30 p.m.

Jami Stavlo, an Eastside resident, said the trail is part of the reason her family bought her house.

“We like walking, we like biking, we like being somewhere where there’s not traffic going by constantly, and this trail is perfect for that,” she said.

The Eastside historically has had fewer opportunities for green space and accessible trails, Ushka said.

“I’ve lived here for 20 years, and my kids did not learn how to ride bikes as youth because I lived on a gravel road with no safe place to ride,” Ushka said.

According to a state Department of Health map, Eastside also has some of the highest environmental health disparities in the city. It’s also one of the most racially diverse areas in the city.

“It’s no surprise then that we also have some of the lowest health outcomes in a diverse community, so having these resources is transformational,” Ushka said. “Now if we don’t pair it with programming to invite communities to have ownership in the trail, we won’t get the positive health outcomes that we hope to get from these investments.”

The project to complete the trail from Tacoma city limits to South Hill and beyond is in the works.

Pierce County has completed preliminary design to extend the Pipeline Trail from Tacoma through Orangegate Park.

One day, there could be a complete trail from Mount Rainier National Park to Commencement Bay.

“This spot to me is important because if you connect it to Buckley trail, you now have a ride that goes from the mountain to the sound. And that’s something that people fly to,” Ushka said.

This story was originally published by The News Tribune.