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A grand new centerpiece

Imagine 610 acres of rolling meadows, walking trails, golf and other amenities.

Imagine breathtaking views of Puget Sound, several islands and the Olympic Mountains beyond. Imagine a park to rival Point Defiance as a regional destination.

Beginning May 5, you won’t have to imagine.

On that day, Pierce County will dedicate the Soundview Trail, a 2-mile asphalt ribbon that winds through the county’s Chambers Creek Properties in University Place. County officials hope the former gravel mine will become a regional showcase park.

Those plans already are taking shape. On June 23, the county will dedicate the Chambers Bay Golf Course, an 18-hole championship-caliber course expected to attract major tournaments.

Next year the county will open two parks – North Meadow and Central Meadow – that will feature large, grassy open spaces and additional trails.

Long-term plans for the Chambers Creek Properties call for restaurants, lodging, an environmental education center, shoreline access and a refurbished public pier.

Counting the county’s existing trails and other facilities in area, the Chambers Creek Properties encompasses 932 acres. By comparison, Point Defiance Park spans 702 acres.

The dedication of the $1.3 million Soundview Trail might seem like a modest start. But County Executive John Ladenburg said it’s a key step in building public support for future amenities.

“There’s a wealth of opportunities” at Chambers Creek, Ladenburg said. “The only way to get people interested is to get them down on the site. When people come to the site, they all just love it.”

NEIGHBORS EXCITED

The site didn’t always inspire talk of recreation. For more than a century it was a gravel mine, and the county’s wastewater treatment plant sits just south of the proposed parks.

In the 1980s, the county began buying Chambers Creek property for preservation and recreation purposes. In 1997, it adopted a master plan that envisioned many of the amenities now being developed.

But the plan called for building the park over 50 years. Ladenburg wanted it done faster. He proposed a plan to build a top-flight golf course to jump-start development and pay for other amenities on the site.

Ladenburg’s plan to borrow money from the county sewer fund and pay it back with golf course revenues has been controversial, and it remains to be seen whether the course will generate the necessary revenue.

But development of the golf course led to construction of the Soundview Trail, and Ladenburg believes the entire site could be developed in 10 to 12 years.

The dedication of the Soundview Trail is the next step. Organizers expect several thousand people to attend the event, which will feature 5K and 10K run/walks, a Hound to Sound Dog Walk, music, magicians, carnival games and other hoopla.

The impending opening has generated plenty of buzz among neighbors who use the adjoining Grandview Trail.

“We’re very excited,” said University Place resident Janet Mohr as she and husband Bob walked the Grandview Trail one recent morning. “We’ve been watching this year after year.”

“We can hardly wait,” said Linda Falk, another resident out walking her Jack Russell terrier.

“This is a family place,” Falk said of the existing trail. “People bring all their relatives who visit. Everybody comes down here.”

Ladenburg sees the developing park as a regional destination. So does Kathy Wells, executive director of the nonprofit Chambers Creek Foundation, a group that supports development of the site and arranged for private funding to cover the costs of the May 5 festivities.

Wells said the public now has “930 acres to test-drive.” And the Soundview Trail is a key vehicle.

“It’s a dream being realized,” Wells said of the trail’s dedication.

INCREDIBLE VIEWS, A WORKOUT

So what can you expect to see when the trail opens? Fantastic scenery.

From the North Meadow access off Grandview Drive, the trail offers sweeping views of the golf course, the Sound, and Ketron, Anderson and McNeil islands. You can see Steilacoom to the south and watch the ferries bound for Anderson Island. Freight trains rumble beside the water below.

The trail skirts the course and descends through a forest of Douglas fir, madrona and alder. The trail here has a grade of up to 12 percent and switches back as it descends to the Sound.

As it does, traffic noise from Grandview gives way to the chirping of birds and the croaking of frogs. The trail emerges from the forest to parallel the BNSF Railway tracks along the Sound. Sea birds and the occasional harbor seal bob in the current.

This portion of the trail includes views of the Narrows bridges and the Olympic Mountains.

The trail then veers into the golf course, where you can get a closer look at the fescue greens and fairways (though nongolfers must stay on the trail). You can see the pier the county one day hopes to rebuild and open to the public.

Further on, you’ll see a series of giant concrete structures that resemble something from an industrial-era Easter Island. These are the remnants of bins used to sort gravel from the pit. The county left them standing as a reminder of the site’s industrial past.

The trail loops behind the bins and across the future site of the Central Meadow. Construction on the Central Meadow and the North Meadow will begin later this year, and they should be ready for public use by late summer 2008.

Finally, the trail climbs another steep grade to a panoramic view of the course, the Sound and the Olympics. At the top of the hill, if you want to keep walking, you can continue on nearby trails.

Beyond the opening of the meadows next year, the timeline for developing the rest of the Chambers Creek Properties remains uncertain. The county is lobbying the state for money for a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks to provide shoreline access, and it wants the federal government to help rebuild the pier.

Ladenburg is convinced he’ll have thousands of new lobbyists when the trail opens.

“Once the public looks down here in large numbers, they’ll want to find a way to get the rest done,” he said.

What: Dedication of the Soundview Trail at Pierce County’s Chambers Creek Properties

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 5

Where: 9850 64th St. W., University Place

What to expect: The daylong event will feature 5K and 10K runs and walks and the Hound to Sound Dog Walk. Music, clowns, carnival games, food and other festivities also will be featured.

Parking: Shuttle service is available from Charles Wright Academy, 7723 Chambers Creek Road W., Tacoma; Curtis Junior High School, 8901 40th St. W., University Place; United Church, 3912 Grandview Drive W., University Place; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4219 Beckonridge Drive W., University Place. Parking also is available on Grandview Drive.

Trail hours: The Soundview Trail will be open from dawn to dusk.

More information: Call 253-566-6891 or visit www.chamberscreekfoundation.org.

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