Garfield gulch exists in a sort of limbo between inaccessible wilderness and managed natural area. Of all the North End gulches, this one’s probably had the roughest history. Not only was it heavily logged like the rest of Tacoma, but a huge portion of it was actually filled in and built over. If you’ve ever wondered why there’s a four block gap in N. 7th St., it’s because that’s where the gulch used to be. The only evidence left is a slight dip in elevation.
There are actually two ways through the gulch, one far more reasonable and obvious than the other. If you’re looking for a quick but scenic way to get from Garfield Park to Ruston Way, the more trafficked and clear trail high along the eastern ridge is your best bet. It’s still sketchy in some spots and quite steep at the northern end but it’s definitely more of a trail than the alternate route.
If you’re interested in a little more adventure and a more intimate look at the gulch itself, the lower path is the way to go. The path along the southern slope and gulch bottom is so narrow and overgrown that you’re forced to consider the possibility that this trail only exists because it happens to be the easiest path for deer and racoons to walk on. There are many more of their footprints than those of other people.
It’s not all hardship and bummer though. Like its gulch siblings further up along the waterfront, it provides a unique and beautiful escape into nature. If you go at the right time of year, you’ll find one of the densest patches of salmonberries anywhere in the city. It’s also interesting to see a few worn out cedar stumps left over from the mills of 100 years ago. Interspersed among the struggling natives, you’ll find unlikely patches of ornamental garden plants from the houses up top. Particularly striking is the orange/red stalks of Italian Arum.
Scattered around the gulch are at least four large wooden trail marking posts left over from the failed Bayside Trails project of the mid ‘70s. Ill-defined plans to revamp the trail system have been floating around for the last few years but little evidence of progress can be seen in Garfield Gulch. In spite of this, there are a few dedicated locals who have taken it upon themselves to restore the native environment and its access to the public. Rob Girvin works with Metro Parks as the official Natural Area Steward for Garfield Gulch. If you’d like to help the cause, give him a call at 253-383-4588 or email him at email@example.com.