Published on November 19th, 2014 | by Rachel Ervin1
Tacoma’s magical paths: Puget Creek
The stairs to the bottom of the gulch were coated with light sand, like they were just steps away from the ocean. I had wanted to hike this trail for years; its entrance tucked behind a faded sign on the southern slope of Puget Park, like a secret door to the forest.
I followed my husband down the path, not bothering with the rickety railing that functioned as a barrier between us and the steep ravine. Benches dotted our way down, but we were too giddy to stop and sit. Eight years had passed since we’d had time to ourselves and didn’t have to bother with a babysitter for our kids. A lot has changed in eight years.
We decided to run when we reached the bottom. Trickling water formed streams on either side and the trees made a canopy that blocked the mist and sky. We ran for a while, the only sounds we heard were water and rocks and our breath. It was good to have white noise to clear my head. It was good to be outside and erase my rotten mood.
It occurred to me about half way along the Puget Creek Trail – part of the Puget Creek Natural Area running from Puget Park on Proctor Street all the way to the Ruston Way waterfront – that we were running through new and old-growth forest in the bowels of an urban core. Paris can keep their catacombs. We have conifers.
I wondered then how far we could move like this beneath the city in the gulches between neighborhoods – a mile? Two miles? What did the rest of Tacoma have to offer by way of forested trails?
A quick Google search later and I discovered an interactive map of north end gulches created by the Tacoma News Tribune. It lists four in the area: Buckley, Garfield, Mason, and Puget gulches, with tips and trail entrances listed. Some of the gulches are impassable most of the year, with blackberry thickets and other growth crowding the trails, but restoration on the Puget Creek Trail by volunteers from both Metro Parks and community organizations like the Puget Creek Restoration Society, has kept it free from obstruction and built the benches and terraced pathways that mark the trail.
As someone who grew up in both the Mojave desert and the flat and polluted environs of California’s San Joaquin Valley, having access to an underground forest a couple of blocks from my house and in the middle of the city is mind-blowing. Having four within a few miles radius is straight up magical. Our initial trip down into Puget Gulch has since launched me and my husband on weekly explorations of Tacoma’s hidden and well-loved trails. I always knew Tacoma was a special place, but it has taken eight years to discover one of the things that make it so.
*Photographs by Kali Raisl