EDITORIAL: Puyallup trail link needs swift action —

EDITORIAL: Puyallup trail link needs swift action

News Tribune

Little by little, mile by mile, Pierce County’s remarkable Foothills Trail is taking shape.

Today it’s 15 miles long, stretching from Puyallup to South Prairie, and plans are for it to eventually be more than 28 miles long and link up with King County’s Interurban Trail. But 7.35 miles of trail could be added fairly quickly – if the City of Puyallup could only complete a land deal with local property owners.

The land acquisition would make possible a 1.35-mile trail linking the Foothills Trail with Puyallup’s six-mile-long Riverwalk Trail. That deal is being held up until completion of a city annexation plan. But if it doesn’t happen soon, $300,000 in state money for the trail linkage project could go away. And it might be years before it’s available again, if ever.

The money is a grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office. There’s a strong chance that if Puyallup isn’t able to get its act together soon, the grant could go to the next applicant on the list in the office’s highly competitive trails category. That is, if the money isn’t taken back by the Legislature as it tries to deal with the current budget crisis.

Puyallup could re-apply for the money – in 2010. But there’s no guarantee money will be available then or that the city’s application would be funded even if it were. In 2007, for instance, the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board approved grants for only eight trail projects out of 24 applications. Puyallup initially wasn’t funded, but got its grant because one of the projects that did win funding fell out. Only half as much state money is expected to be available for grants in the upcoming funding round – and even that is iffy because of the budget climate.

Puyallup officials don’t seem too worried about the state money going away. They should be. Given economic conditions, the Recreation and Conservation Office has an incentive to use money on ready-to-go projects because there’s no certainty about how much funding – if any – will be available in the future.

If the Puyallup trail link can’t be completed in the near future, the losers would be the residents of that city and others throughout Pierce County who understand the value of making progress on a continuous trail system. They should hope that the city and the landowners involved can quickly come to an agreement.

Although the state Recreation and Conservation Office is under no obligation to give Puyallup more time than it already has, cutting the city a little more slack would greatly advance the agency’s mission of providing recreational opportunities and conserving open space for public use. This opportunity is too good to pass up.

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