It’s the season for local parks

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

I’ll admit to being about 150% biased on this topic, but I am convinced that Tacoma has the best parks anywhere. You can see the statistics on the infographic but the facts are even better.

Yes, it is astounding that over three million people pass through Point Defiance each year (that’s about the same as visit Mount Rainier National Park any given year), and yes, it seems like about a million of those (or at least their cars) are there on the weekend you choose to be there.

Besides Point Defiance, there are 68 other parks in,  around (and, like Northwest Trek, outside of) the city. Some, like Ruston Way, you might not even think of as parks.

If you look at photos of Tacoma’s Ruston Way before about 1980, you will see a two or three mile strand of industrial slag, abandoned buildings and scrub bushes all culminating in the grim, boarded-up toxic wasteland  known as the ASARCO copper refining plant.

Besides being ugly, scraggly and saturated in lead, arsenic and who knows what other noxious chemical compounds, it was dirty, dusty and a place you’d drive by as quickly as possible on your way to the relatively clean Point Defiance.

But you’d never know it today. Ruston Way is itself a destination. It is green, lush, and even on a sunny evening, with traffic (not) rushing by, it has its quiet, lush corners.

It took work, money and an astounding vision to turn that narrow strip of industrial blight into the luminous, green and welcoming place it is today.

Point Ruston, while not part of Tacoma’s Metro Parks, is the capstone, the vital commercial hub of the North End of Tacoma.

Ride a surrey alongside a ferry.  Photo: Morf Morford

Ride a surrey alongside a ferry. Photo: Morf Morford

Point Ruston has had more than its share of legal, political and construction complications (toxic contamination and split jurisdictional authority between Tacoma and Ruston, among other things), but Point Ruston also stands (and seems to be flourishing) as the result of work, investment and vision.

That whole stretch of land, from Old Town Tacoma to Point Ruston, stands as an example of what can be done when a community steps up and reclaims a part of town everyone else has given up on.

Tacoma is that kind of place. Yes, Tacoma too, has had its years, if not decades, on the margins, as the butt of jokes and as the target of snide comments.

But according to national news sources, Tacoma has been discovered – even, gasp! by our naysayers and critics in King County.

Those of us born and raised here know two things about Tacoma; Tacoma was always cool, and Tacoma will never be cool.

Yes, part of us secretly, even desperately, wants the recognition and glamour that Seattle seems to wrap around itself, but another, perhaps deeper part of being from Tacoma is that we want to be left alone.

We love our wide, quiet streets and historic neighborhoods. We might complain about paying for parking, but  at least we can (almost) always find a parking place, even downtown.

Besides I-5, traffic is rarely a problem in Tacoma. The side/surface streets (except when they are under construction) are almost always clear and very few neighborhoods have parking restriction of any kind.

Almost every neighborhood has a seasonal farmers market (https://www.piercecountycd.org/362/Tacoma-Farmers-Markets) and most neighborhoods are walking distance to one or Tacoma almost city parks.

Image courtesy Metro Parks

Image courtesy Metro Parks

But don’t forget county parks. Pierce County parks hold over 4,000 acres at 50 park sites throughout Pierce County, including three recreation centers, a sports complex, ice rink, skateboard park, two boat launch sites, three golf courses and multiple trail.

Spanaway and Chambers Bay are perhaps the most well known, but don’t miss the rest. You can see the details on parks here – https://www.piercecountywa.org/114/Parks-Recreation.

Pierce County’s counterpart to (and eventual companion with) Ruston Way is the Foothills Trail (https://www.piercecountywa.org/1384/Foothills-Trail).

On the Foothills Trail, you will find unobstructed views of nearby Mt. Rainier and luscious farms and orchards (depending on the season). Much of the trail follows the Carbon River upstream through farmland and forest.

The Foothills Trail is a 12-foot wide asphalt trail / linear park suitable for bicycles, walking, in-line skates and wheel chairs. Much of it also has a soft shoulder path for horses.

You can catch it various places (park & ride lots) in Puyallup and Orting. Details on this map – http://www.co.pierce.wa.us/1388/Trail-Map.