Monday, March 26, 2018

Trails End Horse Arena, Stables to Be Demolished

Above: The long vacant Trails End horse arena is facing demolition by the City of Tumwater. The city proposes to use the 22.4 acres it owns near the Olympia Airport for its new operations and maintenance facility.

- The Gopher in the Room
- Large Garry Oak Could Be Removed

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

In its heyday, there was no place like the Trails End arena and event center for horse shows, rodeos, 4-H activities, country western concerts, dancing, fine dining and good times.

Located in Tumwater near the Olympia Airport off Old Highway 99, the long vacant site is an integral piece of priceless memories for generations of South Sounders.

Horse culture runs deep in Thurston County and many children grew up there, riding and showing their animals and yes, mucking out horse stalls. Tens of horses were boarded there year round, and for many adults too, it was home away from home.

Now, as local 4-H groups and equestrian clubs struggle to find open space to meet and practice, the site that used to foster so much community is now covered with blackberry brambles.

The boarded-up building fronts look like a ghost town set in an old western, but you can almost smell sawdust and hear horses snort and whinny.

Above: The Trails End in Tumwater near the Olympia Airport.

Community Meeting

The long vacant Trails End horse arena is facing demolition by the City of Tumwater. The city proposes to use the 22.4 acres it owns near the Olympia Airport for its new operations and maintenance facility.

Nearly 40 community members attended a meeting about the plan on Thursday evening in Tumwater’s new Warehouse District, an area near the Trails End that caters to small, startup craft brewing, distilling and cider industries.

Jay Eaton, Tumwater public works director, fielded questions and addressed the proposed project’s impacts on the environment and surrounding neighborhoods. Joining him were representatives of TCF Architecture who planned and designed Tumwater’s new Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School.

The city first put the new operations and maintenance facility into its capital facility plan in 2012. The city’s current facilities, which include 100 vehicles, are crammed into two locations: one behind city hall and the other at the corner of Israel Road and Capitol Boulevard in the old fire station.

Taking into consideration the future expansion of city hall, additional staff and parking and more urban amenities, city staff began looking for properties that would accommodate growth of the city and their needs.

Built in pieces between the 1960s and the 1990s, the Trails End property had fallen out of the bankrupt hands of housing developer Tri Vo and his company, Triway Enterprises.

In 2014, the City of Tumwater purchased the property for the purpose of creating a new operations and maintenance facility. The property is zoned light commercial. 

Eaton said vandals have stripped the property clean of plumbing, electrical wiring and other features of value. Structurally, he said the beams in the arena are failing.

“It’s kind of sad. It used to be a happening place and now it’s in poor condition. It’s not suitable for any purpose. It’s much easier to build new space much more efficiently than (keep) the existing buildings. If we were to bring it back…it really doesn’t function for the intended use we have,” he said.

Above: City of Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet welcomed community members to a meeting about the future of the Trails End property on Thursday evening. Many questions were asked and the meeting lasted over two hours.

Site Alternatives

The city presented a series of site alternatives, all ranging in cost from $30 to $46 million.

Trails End Road divides the former Trails End property between two parcels. Options include the possibility of realigning 79th Avenue around the entire property.

The road now leads to a housing development called Sterling Crossing. Increased Old Highway 99 traffic at 79th Avenue SE comes from new developments with streets named after equestrian terminology like Stable Court, Arab Drive, and Derby Lane and subdivisions like Bridlewood. 

The city also wants to designate an area that could be used for a permanent park. That aspect of the plan would be handled by the city’s parks and recreation staff.

Some community members of nearby subdivisions are eager to have the property cleaned up and used by the city. Others are concerned about noise associated with operations.

Dan Venable said he frequented Trails End for about 20 years and once operated the restaurant and lounge. Venable, owner of a residential demolition firm, agreed the city needed a new facility but wondered if the site was the most cost effective place to put it. Eaton said the city looked at different properties but preferred to have property that was in city ownership.

Doug Woolen asked about the liability of a fuel facility near a residential community. Eaton said that the city did examine that, but felt the city needed access to immediate fuel in order to respond to emergencies. He said the facilities would be state-of-the-art.

The Gopher in the Room

Addressing the gopher in the room, Eaton acknowledged that the site will be subject to environmental review as it is home to the federally protected and endangered Mazama pocket gopher.

Eaton said the city has built up “credits” to mitigate the impact of destroying the Mazama pocket gopher habitat, but will still have to address it in a habitat conservation plan.

“The gopher issue will be an issue no matter what happens on this property…it still doesn’t make it easy to get through the process.”

A large Garry Oak tree is also on the property. Garry Oaks, also known as Oregon white oaks, and its related prairie ecosystems are vanishing rapidly in the South Sound due to development pressure.

Asked later about the future of the oak, Eaton says it depends which site alternative is selected.

“Alternative A, with the development on the west parcel, wouldn’t impact the tree.  Alternative B, in its current configuration with the development on the east parcel, would impact the tree unless the site could be rearranged to avoid it, which would appear to be difficult. As the project progresses the alternatives could change.  The demolition project wouldn’t include removal of the tree,” he told Little Hollywood.

“It is still our intent to move forward with demolition this summer and construction a couple years from now… with the caveat that we’ll be dealing with the gopher and related environmental issues,” said Eaton.

Alicia Phillips boarded her horses there, participated with cattle events, and briefly ran a cafe at Trails End during weekend events.

Phillips attended the City of Tumwater’s council meeting on Tuesday evening to express her passionate feelings about the Trails End complex. She also attended Thursday night’s meeting.

“Why is there no consideration for the spirit for what this place has been? There is history here. The city is missing out on a huge opportunity to preserve history. When you say none of it is salvageable, I don’t believe it,” she said at Thursday's meeting.

Later, she spoke with Mayor Pete Kmet, who stayed for the entire meeting. She asked him to find a way for the existence of the Trails End to somehow be commemorated.

“I was more than a bit disheartened by everyones willingness to demolish and pave over its history. This site has a rich history and has housed thousands of events,” she told Little Hollywood.

Above: A tiny green space for the Sterling Crossing subdivision consists of a single piece of plastic playground equipment. It sits in stark contrast to the 22 acres of adjacent open space. A large outbuilding that used to board horses sits on the other side of the subdivision’s fence on the Trails End west parcel.