Yes, South Hill Has a History

South Hill will be part of historical trails study

by Carl Vest

President Obama recently signed into law a new Federal program that will have an effect on South Hill.  Public Law 111-11, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, requires that the Secretary of the Interior undertake a study of the western routes used by emigrants to determine the feasibility and suitability of designating one or more as components of existing national historic trails.  Specifically listed in the law is the Naches Pass Trail, which crossed South Hill and which could become a part of the current Oregon National Historic Trail.

Funds have been appropriated for the National Parks System, Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service to begin the necessary preparation work.  Money for the feasibility study, with mapping of the various segments to officially get them added to the National Trails Act, is expected to be in the next several Federal budgets.

The Naches Pass Trail has existed for centuries.  It originated in Walla Walla, traversed the Cascades through Naches Pass, descended the western slopes of the mountains near Bonney Lake, crossed the Puyallup River and then passed over South Hill from the Northeast to the Southwest.  The trail then went through Parkland and ended in Steilacoom.  The South Hill part has been mostly destroyed by uncontrolled development, but its various locations can be generally identified by a number of road signs throughout the area labeled “Military Road.”  Moreover, its location is illustrated on numerous old maps and in written materials held by various archives.

Over several years Pierce County has also taken steps to recognize and mark portions of the old trail where it crossed South Hill.  On October 11, 2001, for example, the County dedicated The South Hill Heritage Corridor and installed a number of historic markers throughout the community to show where the trail existed at various points.  This action was authorized by County Council Resolutions 2001-59s2 and 2001-143.  Also, the South Hill Community Plan, dated December 11, 2002, recognized the importance of the Heritage Corridor.  Standard 35.2.3 of that document states that as a matter of County policy it will, “Actively pursue the opportunity to link the South Hill Heritage Corridor with the Naches Trail from Walla Walla to Steilacoom.” 

It will take some time for the Federal bureaucracy to get organized and underway.  But eventually residents on the Hill should see survey crews working using old maps and modern technology to identify precisely where the old trail was located.  The end result of this work will be a report showing where the trail existed.  In our area the work will probably be managed by the National Park Service or a contractor hired by them.  After the studies are done recommendations will be developed.  Additional Federal legislation will be required for the findings to become law and the area to become part of the national system of historical trails.  This is a multiyear effort and it’s just getting started.

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.