Decades ago, Dr. Douglas A. Tait sat in his general physician's practice in Buckley, Wash., with a group of friends and colleagues and envisioned a trail. He saw people being able to walk between Buckley, his hometown, all the way to Puyallup almost 20 miles to the west, passing through the communities of South Prairie, Wilkeson, Carbonado and Orting along the way.
Soon after, in 1983, the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition was formed and has since worked to develop a rail-trail along the former route of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The Foothills Trail starts on the floor of a river valley and heads through and around the foothills of Mount Rainier National Park. Where the Northern Pacific Railroad previously connected Mount Rainier National Park with the bustling waterfront of Tacoma's Commencement Bay, the Foothills Trail now holds the possibility of reestablishing that connection as a non-motorized trail.
This month, the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition celebrated the designation of the trail as a National Recreation Trail, recognition of the tremendous strides the group has taken in developing what is now one of the most used rail-trails in the state. Dr. Tait is widely recognized by all who have contributed to the effort as one of its key trailblazers.
Dr. Tait passed away in 2003. However, his labors are now beginning to bear wonderful fruit. On National Trails Day this year, the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition held their 10th Annual Rainier to Ruston Rail-Trail Relay. After years of modest attendances, which failed to raise much-needed money for the trail effort, this year's event attracted 1,200 participants, a 60 percent increase on last year.
"It is terrific to see real momentum building behind the Foothills Trail," says Steve Schweigerdt, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's manager of trail development in the Western Regional Office. "Tacoma is growing fast, and the new residents and businesses in this area are looking for exactly this kind of recreational opportunity. Under the shadow of Mount Rainier, this has the potential to be one of those iconic trails."
When complete, the trail will cover more than 28 miles.
"Much has been accomplished," says Chuck Morrison of the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition told RTC, reflecting on Dr. Tait's legacy in bring the trail this far. "But much more work needs to occur to bring his dream to fruition."