Foothills Trail president Gordon ‘Buzz’ Grant made converting rails to trails his life’s mission

Gordon “Buzz” Grant found his life’s passion turning abandoned corridors into living pathways.

Grant, president of the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition, died Tuesday. He was 74.

Grant died at his Puyallup home with family and friends at his side, according to daughter Tami Aranda. He had recently had heart surgery, and his health had declined rapidly.

Grant got involved with the Foothills Coalition in 1980s while working for a title insurance company. His boss sent him out to research railroad right-of-ways along the Foothills Trail.

Then I saw the good that this whole idea was. What it can do for people. And I said, ‘That’s what I want to do with my time.’ … The trail is good for a lot of people. For exercise or just spending time with family,” he told The News Tribune in 2016.

Grant was elected to the coalition’s board of directors in 2000. In 2010, he was elected president.

“He was driven for trails,” said board member Don Partington.

Grant was born in Tacoma in 1944 and grew up in Lakewood.

Just out of high school, he began working for Commonwealth Title in Tacoma. Even with mergers and buyouts, he stayed with the same company his entire career, Aranda said.

“He lived and breathed it,” she said. “He loved maps.”

He married his wife, Barbara Surdick, in 1964. Daughter Tami was born in 1968.

Under Grant’s leadership, the trail grew to 25 miles, running from Puyallup to Buckley. Built mostly on abandoned railroad right-of-ways, the trail follows rivers and farmland as it cuts through Orting and South Prairie.

“His passion for the concept of extending the Foothills Trail from Point Defiance to Mount Rainier surpassed none other,” said coalition board member Dixie Gatchel.

Grant, along with Partington and Gatchal, helped secure funding for a trail bridge over the White River that should get underway in 2021, according to King County Parks. When complete, it will connect the Enumclaw section of the Foothills Trail to the Pierce County section.

Grant was a tireless coalition builder, Gatchel said, working with horse groups to bike clubs.

“We collaborated with all of them,” she said.

A spur of the Foothills Trail that runs from South Prairie to near Mount Rainier National Park was his favorite section, Partington said.

The Foothills Trail Coalition began in 1984 with Ernie Bay as its first president. In the early days of trail creation, Grant was assisted in his title research by his good friend, Douglas “Doc” Tate.

Grant’s expertise in the title world proved invaluable for the coalition, both Gatchal and Partington said.

“Not only for us but for many, many others,” Partington said. “It’s amazing how tricky that world is.”

Grant researched titles for groups and individuals all over Washington, Partington said.

“He was still getting calls from Washington State DOT and people in the (title) business about railroad titles,” Aranda said. “Everybody turned to him.”

Along with Aranda, Grant is survived by three grandchildren. Wife Barbara died in 2004.

Memorial services have yet to be scheduled.

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.