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Countywide Trail Implementation Project

Description: In October, 2002, a trail implementation project was initiated in Pierce County, Washington, to develop a strategy for building an interconnected countywide trail system in a timely and efficient manner.

The project was initiated by ForeverGreen, a non-profit 'System of Parks' collaborative established in 2000 to partner in the delivery of park and recreation programs and resources to the citizens of Pierce County through a coordinated system of park, open space, and recreation service providers. The ForeverGreen Board of Directors includes elected officials, business leaders, non-profit organizations, and recreation directors from city, county, state and federal agencies in Pierce County, including Mount Rainier National Park.

An issue that repeatedly surfaced at ForeverGreen board meetings was the need to develop a system of interconnected, non-motorized trails, throughout Pierce County. Public demand for such a system was high and people were frustrated at the slow pace and limited extent of trail construction.

To address this issue, ForeverGreen submitted an application for planning assistance to the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program of the National Park Service. The application requested RTCA assistance in developing a coordinated implementation strategy to get a trail system built based on existing trail plans (not new trail planning). The grant request was approved and a collaborative project began in October 2002 with three objectives:

  1. Inventory and map what already exists in adopted trail plans
  2. Analyze/assess why the trail system is not getting built in a timely manner
  3. Develop an implementation strategy to build a countywide trail system

The inventory and mapping of existing trail plans was completed by the summer of 2003. For the purpose of the project, the map was prepared at a 'macro' scale to illustrate primary routes only. This process illustrated a clear picture of the potential for a countywide trail system as envisioned in existing trail planning documents.

The next phase of the project was to analyze and assess why the trail system (as envisioned in existing trail plans) was not getting built in a timely manner. After many meetings, interviews, discussions, and debates, the planning team assembled the following conclusions:

  • There was no one central 'lead' organization recognized in Pierce County with inter-jurisdictional authority to develop trails
  • The business of building trails across jurisdictional boundaries is complex and requires an enormous amount of staff time, resources, and specialized expertise
  • Park and recreation departments, in particular, aren't typically organized for this type of work
  • Building trails requires specialized knowledge and professional expertise in fields such as:
    • Right-of-way acquisition
    • Planning
    • Grant writing and management
    • Design and engineering
    • Permitting
    • Construction

In the last phase, the Planning Team developed a proposal for ForeverGreen to partner with the Pierce Conservation District (a member of the ForeverGreen Board) to form a new 'Trails Technical Assistance' office with the ability to work inter-jurisdictionally throughout Pierce County. The office would be a stand-alone operation, dedicated exclusively to trail development, and would provide technical assistance in areas related to right-of-way acquisition, design, engineering, permitting, planning, and grant writing. The ForeverGreen Board would continue to be responsible for trail development by providing policy, direction, and priorities to the Trails Technical Assistance office. Funding for the office would come from future conservation assessment collections starting in July, 2007.

The ForeverGreen Board accepted and endorsed the proposal in late winter, 2004. Efforts between then and July, 2007, are concentrated on extensive public and stakeholder outreach to explain the proposal and develop a constituency of support.

Geographic area covered: Pierce County, in western Washington State, is located in the south Puget Sound region. Bounded on the north by Seattle and King County, and to the south by Olympia and Thurston County, Pierce County encompasses part of Mount Rainier National Park to the east, the City of Tacoma to the west, and includes a total of 22 incorporated towns and cities.

List of partners and relationships:

  • Terry Lee, Pierce County Council representative and Chair, ForeverGreen Council
  • Dave Uberuaga, Superintendent, Mount Rainier National Park
  • Jan Wolcott, Director, Pierce County Department of Parks and Recreation
  • Jack Wilson, Director, Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma
  • Monty Mahan, Director, Pierce Conservation District
  • Ernie Bay, Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition and Board Member, Pierce Conservation District
  • Barbara Skinner, Mayor, City of Sumner
  • John Olson, Coldwell Banker, Board Member Foothills Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Cascade Land Conservancy
  • Bob Carlson, Manager of The Puyallup Fair (recently retired)
  • Brad Cheney, The Ben B. Cheney Foundation
  • Vince Hardy, Morgan Stanley
  • Debbie Regala, Washington State Senator, 27th District
  • Tom Stenger, Tacoma City Council
  • El Vandeberg, Attorney-at-Law, Vandeberg Johnson Gandara
  • Kirk Kirkland, Tahoma Audubon
  • Peter Stanley, Tide's Tavern
  • Judith Nilan, Stone McLaren
  • Judith Lorbeir, Environmental Coordinator, City of Tacoma (recently retired)

Accomplishments to date:

An extensive planning project was completed that accomplished the following:

  • Review and inventory of existing trail plans
  • Preparation of a map graphic illustrating potential for developing a countywide trail system
  • Analysis of the problem (i.e., why isn't the trail system getting built in a timely and efficient manner?)
  • Development of an implementation strategy
  • Concurrence from the Pierce Conservation District Board of Directors to establish and fund a 'Trails Technical Assistance' office
  • Adoption of the proposal by the ForeverGreen Council
  • Development of a brochure explaining the strategy (pending)
  • Development of a powerpoint presentation explaining the strategy (pending)
  • Development of a press release and coordination of significant media exposure (pending)
  • Plan for significant outreach to governments, groups and organizations (e.g., city councils, park boards, youth groups, bicycle clubs, health and physical activity coalitions, etc).

Key success factors:

  • The right project
  • Commitment of staff and resources to work on the project
  • Opportunity to capitalize on previous trail planning efforts contained in plans that have been adopted by responsible governments
  • Public demand
  • Pierce Conservation District Board of Directors willing to establish and fund the 'Trails Technical Assistance' office
  • Funding to establish the 'Trails Technical Assistance' office is not dependent on future grants or new taxes


  • Funding for 'Trails Technical Assistance' office not available until July, 2007

Most important lessons learned to date:

  1. It's easier for a park department to acquire and develop a parcel of land into a traditional "park" than it is to plan and develop an inter-jurisdictional trail corridor.
  2. Planning and developing a linear trail corridor requires expertise and skill in real estate, title research, right-of-way acquisition and negotiations, community planning, engineering, environmental review, permitting, and grant writing.
  3. Trail planning and development requires dedicated staff time, resources and specialized expertise. Planners in small towns and communities are overwhelmed with other responsibilities. Park departments in larger urban areas run multiple programs and facilities and can only dedicate a portion of available resources to trail projects.
  4. Lawsuits and legal challenges could be filed by adjacent landowners (of which there can be hundreds). Planning requires extraordinary outreach and coordination with stakeholder groups.
  5. Permitting can cost nearly as much as construction and can take years to accomplish due to issues around avoiding or mitigating impacts to natural and cultural resources.

What would you do differently next time: Nothing.

Suggested resource materials: See system of current trails at

For more information:

Name: Bryan Bowden
Affiliation: Community Planner, Mount Rainier National Park and RTCA
Phone/Fax: 360-569-2211 ext. 2306

Name: Jayme Gordon
Affiliation: Pierce Conservation District
Phone/Fax: 253-845-2973

Name: Kirk Kirkland
Affiliation: ForeverGreen Council and Tahoma Audubon
Phone/Fax: 253-761-1693

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising __; Capital Improvements __; Facility Management __; Trails _X_; Design __; Program Delivery __; Visitor Services __; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration __; Cultural Resources __; Education/Interpretation __; Arts __; Information Services __; Transportation __; Mutual Aid __; Fire Management __; Planning _X_; Tourism __; Community Relations __;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Bryan Bowden Date posted: 11/28/05
Phone: 360-569-2211 ext. 2306

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