Dome to South Tacoma trail in works
For people who have always wanted to bike on a trail to South Tacoma from the Tacoma Dome, the dream is a closer than ever.
The City of Tacoma is working on phase two, mostly on design, of the Water Ditch Trail project. Since 2008, the city has been restoring the historic flume line and refurbishing it for bicycle and pedestrian commuting. When all four phases are complete, the trail will connect South Tacoma to the Tacoma Dome District, a total of 6 1/2 miles, according to the city’s federal grant proposal.
Andrew Mordhorst, who lives in the Edison neighborhood of South Tacoma, already uses established portions of the trail and is ready for the next phase. For now, he primarily uses it for walking, but he wants to use it as a bicycle path to commute downtown and to other areas of the city.
Mordhorst sees big things for the trail, including community gardens and a connection to Chambers Bay.
Not everyone is excited, however. Michael Schimling and his nephew, Dean Schimling, already have part of the ditch in their backyard. They live behind the section running from South 76th Street to South Tacoma Way that will be turned into a bicycle and pedestrian path in phase two.
Michael Schimling has lived in South Tacoma for 56 years; his nephew has lived there for 21 years. The historic trail has them both beat. The trail that once connected Tacoma to Mount Rainier has been there since 1896.
As it exists now, the trail is used by Tacoma Water, and there are still active wells and water systems along the way.
The Schimlings have been voicing neighborhood concerns about the trail, because many neighbors don’t feel safe going up into the woods, Michael Schimling said. Many residents are retired and don’t get out on the trail as much as the Schimlings, he said.
“A lot of them won’t go up there because of the transients,” Michael Schimling said. “You don’t know who’s up there. You have to be on your toes.”
The Schimlings worry that completion of the project will bring more problems.
FIRE PITS, BEER CANS
Walking the stretch of gravel trail – and other offshoots of the trail – fire pits can be found tucked into the woods. Plastic bags filled with beer cans hang from the trees. Tall cans of Milwaukee’s Best are smashed into the earth. Packs of Marlboro and Pall Mall cigarettes are littered along the trail, weathered and beaten into the ground by foot traffic.
It’s not a trail to saunter along barefoot – broken glass is scattered around and ant colonies animate the ground. Dean Schimling pointed to what he described as an empty “dope bag” blowing along in the wind.
The city is refurbishing this area of trail to provide an alternative to commuting by car.
“This is a transportation facility, it is not a recreational trail,” said Dana Brown, the nonmotorized program manager for the city.
Dean Schimling doesn’t see the point in commuting on this stretch. In his view, “it’s not commuting you (anywhere),” he said. The trail will end on South Tacoma Way next to the Homestead Restaurant and across from the B&I. Smaller trails connected to the main Water Ditch Trail lead up to the Starlight Drive-in.
Michael Schimling is worried that motorized vehicles will access the trail, even if it is designated for “nonmotorized” transportation.
“In the last couple months, the motorcycle traffic has just been crazy. There’s been vehicles and trucks up there, too,” he said.
But the Schimlings’ main concern on the trail, especially if it’s used by commuters, is public safety.
Their family has been personally affected by criminal activity near the hillside. After Michael’s father’s house was burglarized, they found paperwork with his name on it littered across the hillside and trail.
When the flowers are in bloom in the spring and summer, there is little visibility on the trail and the Schimlings worry it could become a place for criminals to lie in wait.
Mordhorst disagrees, saying, “I think it’s completely the reverse.”
Phase two could help improve the area by fostering a sense of community. He encourages neighborhoods to be active on the trail.
“If you have a presence from the community it reduces the less-than-desirable activity,” Mordhorst said. “Being there and taking the initiative to be a steward for your community” can change the atmosphere of the trail.
In the last year, there have been 437 criminal incidents within a half-mile radius of the Schimlings’ neighborhood, according to the Pierce County Crime Data website. That number includes 27 residential burglaries, nine assaults and 20 drug crimes.
Brown said the city hasn’t talked to law enforcement about the area where the trail will be built.
“We have not yet engaged the police department about those concerns,” Brown said, but the police did attend a South Tacoma Neighborhood Council meeting in March where illumination was discussed. The project includes lighting along the trail, Brown said.
“A wooded area
is not normally a problem for (law enforcement),” said Mark Fulghum, spokesman for the Tacoma Police Department. Instead, police patrol high traffic areas and enter the woods occasionally.
“Exploring the woods is not a normal part of what we do,” Fulghum said.
Fires are another concern for the Schimlings. They have put out small brush fires started by unattended camp fires on the hillside several times, Michael Schimling said. The fire department isn’t out in the hillside often, but there have been a few small incidents in the last year, said Joe Meinecke, spokesman for the Tacoma Fire Department.
“We were out there a couple times for what was suspected to be kids lighting an anthill on fire,” Meinecke said.
In 2009, the city received a $1.495 million dollar nonmotorized transportation grant for construction on phase two of the trail, said Rob McNair-Huff, city spokesman. Design of the trail will take about 10 percent of the grant, and most of that will go toward construction, Brown said.
Phase one, completed in 2009, consisted of two miles of the stretch, according to the city’s grant application.
Phase two is a 1.6-mile stretch of the flume line that will connect to current sections of the restored trail. There will also be new traffic signals where the path intersects South 56th and 74th streets.
According to the proposal, the portions of trail to be restored in phase two are:
• South Washington at South Tacoma Way to South 47th Street.
• South 56th to 60th streets.
• South 72nd to 80th streets.
• South 58th Street trail to the soon-to-be completed Sounder station in South Tacoma.
A small gravel turnaround on South 76th and Cedar streets will be expanded and improved for parking, according to the grant proposal.
When all four phases are complete, the trail with be 61/2 miles long, Brown said. Tacoma would eventually like the trail to link up with the Scott Pierson Trail, which crosses the Narrows Bridge to Gig Harbor, and the Prairie Line Trail, which will reach the Foss Waterway.
The city should hear back in mid-June about a $600,000 grant for phases three and four, McNair-Huff said.
For now, the city will continue to talk with the South Tacoma Neighborhood Council, coordinate with the police department and engage residents near the trail, Brown said.
For Mordhorst, the debate is positive for the area.
“It does bring more people together, even if it is just a discussion of the property,” he said.