Parks managers from Pierce and Thurston counties say it’s too soon to know what impact, if any, a ruling Monday by the Supreme Court will have on popular South Sound multiuse trails.
On Monday, the Supreme Court sided with a Wyoming property owner in a dispute over a bicycle trail built on an old rail bed. The 8-1 ruling means the government may have to pay more than $100 million in compensation claims involving 10,000 properties in 30 states, according to the Associated Press.
The ruling states that government easements used for railroads expired when the railroads closed.
The South Sound is home to several Rails-to-Trails projects, including the 15-mile Foothills Trail between Puyallup and South Prairie and Thurston County’s 22-mile Chehalis Western Trail and 14.5-mile Yelm-Tenino Trail.
“We have asked our Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to review the Supreme Court ruling to determine any possible impacts to the County’s Foothills Trail,” Pierce County parks director Tony Tipton said in an email to The News Tribune. “Until they complete their review, we can’t offer any specific comments as to the impact of the case to the Foothills Trail.”
Kerry Hibdon, parks manager for Thurston County, said “we’re facing the great unknown.”
“We will certainly research it and determine what impact this has on the trails,” he said.
Ernie Bay, former president of the Foothills Rails-to-Trail Coalition, described the ruling as “a wallop.” He’s spent three decades working to make the Foothills Trail a reality.
However, Bay doesn’t believe the decision will impact the trail because the county purchased the property from landowners.
He said early in the movement to build the trail some believed they’d missed an opportunity by not taking over the railroad easements.
“But, as it turns out, if that had been the case we’d be in terribly deep,” Bay said.
The coalition’s goal for the trail is for it to continue to grow eventually reaching from Mount Rainier National Park to Tacoma with an arm to Buckley while also linking to other trail systems.