By Pat Jenkins
The Bud Blancher Trail project in Eatonville is on track, thanks to a revived pool of donations and other funding that got a little deeper recently with another private contribution.
Construction that could result in a completed mile-plus section of is underway. The gravel pathway is named for a member of the project’s planning committee who donated money for the project before his death. As part of a regional trail system, the trail will skirt Smallwood Park, cross the Mashell River via a pedestrian bridge that will be built, and end at the University of Washington’s Pack Forest, connecting to trails within the forest.
Long-term goals are to extend the trail to the Rimrocks County Park site, the planned Nisqually State Park, and the Cascade foothills and Yelm-Tenino trails.
Eatonville received about $500,000 in combined donations from the Bud Blancher estate, the Rails to Trails Conservancy, and Peter and Christine Koch. Most recently, the Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club formally presented a check for $10,000 at a Town Council meeting in support of the trail project.
The project got bumpy in 2012 when the state auditor, in a report on Eatonville’s financial management, said town officials shouldn’t have used trail donations to help meet unrelated expenses. The money was supposed to be spent only for the project, as agreed to by the donors and town officials, but $164,418 of the “restricted donations” were used for general town expenses, the auditor stated.
In response to the auditor’s findings, town officials said the transfer to general uses was necessary because of shortfalls in the town’s overall budget. But they acknowledged that the donated funds should be for the trail only and would be restored.
Since then, the money has been paid back through a plan that temporarily increased the utility tax rate on water, sewer, stormwater and garbage services, while decreasing the rates on all town utilities. That enabled the town to increase revenue in revenue for its general fund last year and return the donations to the trail fund, officials said. They said all rates have been reset to the original amounts.
The Blancher Trail will be for bicyclists, walkers and hikers. When it’s finished, it will stretch 2.5 miles.