Many friends of the Foothills Trail remember Doug Tait, or “Doc” as he was better known, as the “Father of the Foothills Trail.”
More than anyone else in Pierce County, Doc, who was also Buckley’s beloved town doctor for nearly 35 years before he died in 2003, saw the enormous potential in turning abandoned railroad right-of-way into a public recreational trail.
Today’s Foothills Trail is the result of Tait’s vision, dedication and relentless enthusiasm. The trail has grown from a mile-long paved path in Buckley to a popular multi-use, county-owned trail stretching 17 miles from east Puyallup to South Prairie. Chances are good the trail’s “missing link” between South Prairie and Buckley will be completed in the next two to three years, adding several more miles.
On pleasant sunny days, the trail is busy with joggers, walkers, roller-bladders, fast cyclists, slow cyclists, moms pushing strollers, and dads shepherding small children on their first bikes. Fishermen use the trail to reach choice fishing spots. The trail is now treasured as one of the county’s top public recreational assets.
Many of those who worked with Doc Tait to help realize his dream, however, are beginning to pass from the scene. To keep Tait’s memory alive and permanently honor Tait’s role in founding the trail, a decade-old effort to build a memorial in Buckley is now being renewed with a web-based crowdfunding initiative.
The goal is to use the power of the Internet and social media to raise $18,400 to complete an already-designed memorial plaza in Buckley, to be located on public property near the intersection of Main Street and the present trail. Coincidentally, the memorial will be only a few blocks from the Main Street office where Doc Tait treated generations of Buckley residents.
Those who wish to contribute can visit GoFundMe.com, enter the search term “Buckley Dr. Tait Memorial” and easily charge their gifts to a credit card. The website will provide a running total for the fund campaign.
If the drive is successful, organizers Don Partington and Chuck Morrison said, construction of the memorial could be completed by the end of this year.
The plaza will include a 1920’s-era railroad baggage cart, restored by Enumclaw Eagle Scout Tristan Lewis, and a vintage railroad crossing signal, called a wigwag, restored by trail volunteers. Both elements will recall the railroad heritage associated with today’s trail, which follows the rail line built in 1885 by the Northern Pacific Railroad as part of the nation’s second transcontinental rail route.
A plaque will recount both Tait’s service as a physician – equipped with a fire radio, he was the town’s reliable but unofficial emergency medic – and his work as a tireless champion of saving the abandoned rail corridor for recreational use, not only in Buckley but also throughout Pierce County. Tait relentlessly lobbied local and congressional officials and turned an examining room in his office into a repository for maps, letters and promotional material.
His efforts led to the creation of the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition and culminated in voter approval of the county trail project in 1991.
“He gave his whole being to that town and to his vision for the trail,” said Partington, a coalition board member and longtime leader of volunteer work parties on the trail. “What he did should never be forgotten.”
By Dave Seago