Yelm Prairie Line Set to Extend Out to Nisqually River

By Daniel Warn /
Posted 6/22/21

The city of Yelm has received the unofficial green light to extend the Yelm Prairie Line Trail to the tune of about $300,000 from the state.

The Yelm Prairie Line is an addendum to the Yelm-Tenino …

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Yelm Prairie Line Set to Extend Out to Nisqually River


The city of Yelm has received the unofficial green light to extend the Yelm Prairie Line Trail to the tune of about $300,000 from the state.

The Yelm Prairie Line is an addendum to the Yelm-Tenino Trail, which connects to the greater Thurston County trail system for recreational and pedestrian use.

“We haven’t gotten official notice that we’ve got the money yet,” said Grant Beck, with Yelm city planning. “That should come by July. That’s the start of the state biennium.”

The current Yelm Prairie Line extends from the trailhead of the Yelm-Tenino Trail at Yelm Creek to the Centralia Power Canal. The extension will continue about a mile to the railway bridge over the Nisqually River, headed toward Roy, Beck said.

Once the money is liquidated, Yelm will be able to hire a consultant to design the trail. After the design is complete and approved by Yelm City Council, construction will begin.

The trial extension will follow the old rail line the city acquired over two decades ago, but is in the process of abandoning.

Back in the late 1990s, Yelm worked with the Burlington Northern Railway to acquire the railroad right of way and the rail line between Yelm Avenue and the city of Roy, Beck said.

The city used matching funds through a transportation planning grant from the Thurston Regional Planning Council and a donation from Burlington Northern to acquire the rail line and the property that will now be used for the trail.

“The intention at the time was to potentially activate the rail and contract with the ‘Shoreline hauler’ to promote our industrial area and connect up with Tacoma Rail to get out to the Port of Tacoma,” Beck said.

Over the years, Yelm worked to connect the rail line with the Port of Tacoma and Tacoma Rail and even submitted funding applications with the state for that project, Beck said. While the applications looked promising, he said, they were hampered by the economic crash in the 2000s.

“Fate has changed things up that it’s no longer really economic or in the city’s plans to maintain that rail line,” Beck said. “And certainly not with Tacoma Rail. They’re scaling back and focusing on … some of their other connections, so they’re no longer looking to expand.”

Over the last decade or so, Yelm has chosen to focus solely on the Yelm Prairie Line, which was initially going to accompany the rail line, with both functioning simultaneously.

“We started focusing on just the trail aspect of it,” Beck said.

In 2009, the first phase of the Yelm Prairie Line was created, where the railway still exists as one travels from Yelm Creek to the Centralia Power Canal along the trail.

That’s because circa 2009, the city still wanted to use the railway, Beck said.

Once the city decided to abandon the rail line, Yelm applied for the trail’s second phase funding in 2018.

“We didn’t get the money at that point and reapplied in 2020 for the same application through the Recreation Conservation Office and this year we got it,” Beck said, adding the whole process should take about two years to complete.

The city sees the Yelm Prairie Line as a large part of its local economy and economic growth, Beck said.

“We definitely see it as long term economic development,” he said. “We’ve already seen some recreational businesses wanting to work along the trail.”

Beck used the Seattle to Portland bike race (STP) as an example of the trail’s possibilities.

“The STP is a huge deal for Yelm,” he said. “We get a lot of people who’ve never been here, but come back because of that and we hear a lot about people driving down from Tacoma and Seattle to get to the trailhead to get on the Thurston County trail system here in Yelm.”

And the Yelm Prairie Line is just one piece in a grand, multi-region trail plan, Beck said.

“This isn’t just extending the Thurston County trails out to the river,” he said. “We’re looking beyond that as well.”

Beck said there’s another planning effort that’s led by the city of Roy and some of their partners to do preliminary design work from the rail bridge over the Nisqually River into Roy.

Roy wants to pick up where the Yelm Prairie Line will leave off, Beck said. But that’s not all.

“We’ve also worked with Pierce County Parks and, eventually, their trail plan has them connecting up with (Roy’s), so someday you’ll be able to get on the trail north of Oympia … Mud Bay, or in Centralia, and get all the way through the mountains,” Beck said. “It’ll be a statewide trail system.”


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