Puget Sound Energy finished up a new eight-mile, 230 kilovolt transmission line project this month to address the need for power, increasing capacity and reliability among its customers.
Each more than 100 feet tall, transmission poles were installed from the White River transmission station in Bonney Lake to the Alderton transmission station in Puyallup, which includes an approximate two-mile stretch of the Foothills Trail, starting from the East Puyallup Trailhead at the corner of Shaw Road and East Pioneer to N 96th St. E.
And with those towering poles came something rather unique.
With a $35,000 grant from Puget Sound Energy, local artists created 38 pieces of art with Puyallup themes to be installed on 19 poles along the trail.
“We love any opportunity where we can work with the community,” Puget Sound Energy spokesperson Janet Kim said. “We really let the community and artists run with the art piece.”
The transmission line project required a two-month closure of that section of the trail. The Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition, an organization that maintains the trail, met with a spokesperson from Puget Sound Energy, who asked if there were any extra amenities the community might be interested in.
“We thought that the trail is going right underneath (the line), and we thought bikers and joggers could see it. So we said, ‘How about some art?’” said Chuck Fitzgerald, a Puyallup resident and longtime artist who has been active in the Foothills coalition.
Puget Sound Energy accepted that request. Putting art along a transmission line is not an opportunity that comes up all that often, Kim said.
Both Fitzgerald and fellow artist John Hillding, from Wilkeson, were tasked with creating the art that would become signage along the trail. Hillding is a former art professor from the Art Institute of Seattle.
“I taught things like signage for years and years. I understand the rules for how signs work if you want them to be effective, so these signs are pretty iconic,” Hillding said. “One of my favorite things in art is kind of to surprise people with not expecting to see it in these locations — like these poles, you don't expect to see (art) while out walking.”
Hillding and Fitzgerald worked with the Puyallup Arts Commission on the project and developed four major themes for the signs: history, humor, nature and exercise.
The art is printed on circular and square pieces of aluminum and hang about 12 feet off the ground. The signs feature prominent figures from Puyallup, including Ezra Meeker, Chief Leschi and Ernie Bay, who passed away in 2016 and was the first president of the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition.
Eagles, raccoons and frogs are also depicted on some signs. Witty sayings encourage passersby to get active and stay safe: “Get out,” “Bike with a helmet,” “Share the trail,” “Protect, preserve mother nature.”
Arts Commission board member and Arts Downtown president David DeGroot said the art communicates important ideas to the public and shows the beauty and value of Puyallup.
“This art along the trail has something to say about the aspects of life that are important here,” he said.
Currently, five poles along the trail have pieces of art installed on them. The art will continue to be installed through December. Vinyl wrap depicting blades of grass will be placed around the base of the transmission poles at a later time, Hillding said.
The art signs are a way to brighten and liven up the trail, Fitzgerald said.
“It was a lot of fun because it was left up to us as far as what we wanted to put up there,” Fitzgerald said about the project. “It was just a breath of fresh air.”