A tree that fell during that series of storms that swept through western Washington last month destroyed a bridge on an isolated portion of the Foothills Trail in Pierce County.
The bridge collapse could further complicate plans to close the gap on the so-called “Trail to Nowhere” segment, a 1.2-mile section of the paved Foothills Trail located between South Prairie and Buckley.
The main, 15-mile-long section of the Foothills Trail between Puyallup and South Prairie is unaffected by the bridge collapse.
The bridge is located in an extremely difficult to access area east of South Prairie. The trail section from Buckley in the north crosses a boggy wetland, and access from the west is blocked by private property holdings near South Prairie.
Closing the gap
Pierce County launched a two-pronged attack in 2014 to close this gap and create an uninterrupted trail all the way from Puyallup to Buckley, a distance of some 20 to 25 miles.
The county filed condemnation proceedings in October for access to the old Northern Pacific Railway right-of-way just east of South Prairie. Earlier, the county applied for a state grant of $2.7 million to help pay for the estimated $5.5 million it will cost to build connections to the “Trail to Nowhere”.
Now, with the collapsed bridge, the county will have to deal with another challenge in closing the gap between South Prairie and Buckley.
For anyone who has traveled back in this isolated area, the collapsed bridge is the first you come to if you’re heading south from Buckley, a couple of miles past the “Proceed At Your Own Risk” sign. There are four bridges in the relatively short 1.2-mile section.
The bridge spanned a small creek where the Northern Pacific Railway originally had built an earthen grade as it headed east up to the Enumclaw Plateau on its way to Stampede Pass over the Cascades. After the railroad abandoned the route in the 1980s, a huge flood swept through the area in 1996, taking out the old railroad embankment.
The bridge replaced the old railroad embankment. It’s one of four bridges that cross creeks and the Wilkeson River.
The county parks department is assessing the damage and how to proceed, according to news reports in the Tacoma News Tribune.
The most immediate issue is perhaps how to reroute the July 25, 2015, Buckley to Orting Half Marathon, a charity run that uses the section of trail that’s now inaccessible. The run is a fund-raiser for the Foothills Rails to Trail Coalition.
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