Visitors are often intrigued by this garden-like feature at the south end of the UW segment of the Prairie Line Trail. It has plants, rusty steel brackets and troughs, and often water flowing through it. Is it art? History? A science project? This rain garden could be said to be all three.
This feature’s main practical function is to treat stormwater. In an urban environment, stormwater picks up pollutants. Rain gardens like this one use special plants to filter out pollution before runoff hits major waterways. This rain garden treats stormwater from 42 acres of developed urban space upstream, making sure that water is clean and safe when it joins the Thea Foss Waterway at the bottom of the hill.
Learn more about the Prairie Line Trail Stormwater Treatment.
Reportedly a view of the last passenger train to travel on the Prairie Line. (Photo by Jim Fredrickson, used with permission from Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive, Burien, WA).
Artfully designed to work with the existing railroad tracks, the rain garden also preserves a key piece of Tacoma’s history. A close look at the rusty track segments reveals dates. These dates show the last time the tracks were swapped out for maintenance reasons. The last train rumbled over the Prairie Line tracks in Tacoma on the afternoon of March 30, 2003, just under fifty years after these rails were last replaced.
Closing the book on the Prairie Line opened a new chapter in Tacoma’s story — a chapter that harkens back to an earlier time. Historically, a streetcar ran up and down Pacific Avenue. The city brought streetcars back with Tacoma Link light rail in 2003. The historic rail line complicated the intersection of South 17th and Pacific Avenue. To make room for this new rail line, the City and the railroad agreed to phase out the Prairie Line.
Vacating the Prairie Line made light rail much more affordable. It also created an opportunity for a multi-modal transportation route through the heart of Tacoma featuring light rail, automobile, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic.