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Tacoma's Prairie Line Trail Tells Untold Stories

Courtesy Tacoma Public Library, Bowen Collection, TPL-39586.
1929 view north along Commerce (left) and Pacific (right), showing the Prairie Line crossing near S. 17th Street.

Tacoma’s Prairie Line Trail has long been a Northwest landmark.  In the late 1800s, it was the terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad. The intercontinental railroad put Tacoma on the map, but the stories that pre-dated it are often forgotten.


The Prairie Line Trail is a one-mile stretch that winds its way through downtown Tacoma.  For years, it was inaccessible.  Now that it’s being made into a bikeable, walkable park, it connects the city center to the water. The city’s arts administrator, Amy McBride says Tacoma is seizing on the chance to tell a deep history of the land through visual art, including murals and sculpture.  

“Think about the other stories that are part of it, like the fact that it’s on indigenous land. What happened before the railroad came? What happened when people were working on the railroad? Just being able to fill in the blanks on some of the many people and many histories that happened to make our society,” said McBride.

Among those honored on the interpretive trail will be the Puyallup Tribe, who first inhabited the area, as well as Chinese laborers who helped build the railroad.

The works will be sited between downtown and the waterfront by the end of the year. The trail will eventually connect with the Flume Line Trail, stretching to South Tacoma.