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Trail upgrades improve access to the heights of Wapato Hills Park

December 1, 2015

Metro Parks Tacoma has completed the first set of trail improvements for hikes up and around the loop at the top of Wapato Hills Park, the 70-acre urban wildlife area that looms over South Tacoma just west of Interstate 5.

Construction kicked off in July on the long-awaited project that neighborhood advocates hope will attract more hikers to the steep-sided hill and, at the same time, discourage nuisance activities that sometimes pose a threat.

“Getting more walking trails – and walkers – up there will be really cool,” said Carol Munsey, one of the habitat stewards who together organize monthly volunteer work parties to maintain and restore the park’s natural features. Andrew Mordhorst, another habitat steward, is similarly positive about the prospect of increased foot traffic.

Up until recently, the officially sanctioned route to the top was off South 64th Street. “It was one way in and one way out,” Munsey said . The two new approaches, central to the project, could help discourage people from using other, steep and sometimes dangerous wildcat trails to and from the loop trail at the top, which at its highest point is more than 360 feet above the official trailhead below.

wapato hills new trail and bridge 2015

The construction project cost of $167,300 drew from funds from both the 2014 and 2005 voter-approved bond issues, said Kristi Evans, the Metro Parks planner who is overseeing the project. Metro Parks also has set aside about $30,000 for interpretive signs, which will be installed later.

During the summer, Auburn-based T. Miller Construction:

  • Applied gravel to the existing, lollipop-shaped, hilltop trail,
  • Built two new pathways from the north and south sides of the park, starting from South 56th and South 64th streets, respectively,
  • Constructed two boardwalks to protect wetlands, and
  • Replaced the vehicular gate at the South 64th Street paved trailhead.

Evans said one of the project’s goals was to improve firefighter access. Brush fires, often touched off by people inside the park, occasionally threaten the landscape and nearby homes and businesses. Both the new trails and the boardwalks are built to support vehicles, if necessary.

The design of the improvements is consistent with an updated master plan developed by Metro Parks Tacoma with City of Tacoma in 2013. Now through a partnership agreement, Metro Parks is in charge of Wapato Hills maintenance and it actively supports the efforts of the Friends of Wapato Hills Park, the name associated with Munsey and Mordhorst’s volunteer group. From 9 a.m. until noon on the second Saturday of each month, volunteers get together to haul out junk; remove non-native, invasive brush, such as Scotch broom; or plant native species, such as salal.

The restoration project is “a work in progress – for the rest of our lives,” joked Munsey. She, Mordhorst and other park volunteers first banded together several years ago at a meeting focused on the park’s future. Both have lived in the neighborhood for about 20 years.

The park’s natural areas have long hidden the homeless and miscreants who exploit its vantage points to spy on businesses along Tacoma Mall Boulevard, Munsey said. But as more people have begun explore Wapato Hills trails, undesirable activity has declined. The new trails and upgrades are sure to reinforce that by attracting more recreational hikers. “Having eyes on the place does seem to help,” Munsey said. “It’ll reduce the wildlife we don’t want up there,” Mordhorst added.

Learn more about Wapato Hills Park.