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Pierce County is home to Mount Rainier, the tallest mountain and a volcano in the Cascade Range. Its most recent recorded eruption was between 1820 and 1854. There is no imminent risk of eruption, but geologists expect that the volcano will erupt again. If this should happen, parts of Pierce County and the Puyallup Valley would be at risk from lahars, lava, or pyroclastic flows. The Mount Rainier Volcano Lahar Warning System was established in 1998 to assist in the evacuation of the Puyallup River valley in case of eruption.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,806 square miles (4,680 km2), of which 1,670 square miles (4,300 km2) is land and 137 square miles (350 km2) (7.6%) is water. The highest natural point in Washington, Mount Rainier at 14,410 feet (4,392 m), is located in Pierce County.
Lake Tapps (Washington)
Mount Rainier, highest point in both the county and Washington state.
Pierce County also contains the Clearwater Wilderness area.
King County — north
Yakima County — east
Lewis County — south
Thurston County — west/southwest
Mason County — west/northwest
Kitsap County — north/northwest
National protected areas
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (part)
Mount Rainier National Park (part)
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (part)
Census Pop. %±
1860 1,115 —
1870 1,409 26.4%
1880 3,319 135.6%
1890 50,940 1,434.8%
1900 55,515 9.0%
1910 120,812 117.6%
1920 144,127 19.3%
1930 163,842 13.7%
1940 182,081 11.1%
1950 275,876 51.5%
1960 321,590 16.6%
1970 411,027 27.8%
1980 485,643 18.2%
1990 586,203 20.7%
2000 700,820 19.6%
2010 795,225 13.5%
Est. 2019 904,980 13.8%
U.S. Decennial Census
As of the census of 2000, there were 700,820 people, 260,800 households, and 180,212 families residing in the county. The population density was 417 people per square mile (161/km?). There were 277,060 housing units at an average density of 165 per square mile (64/km?). The racial makeup of the county was 78.39% White, 6.95% Black or African American, 1.42% Native American, 5.08% Asian, 0.85% Pacific Islander, 2.20% from other races, and 5.11% from two or more races. 5.51% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 16.1% were of German, 8.6% Irish, 8.2% English, 6.3% American, and 6.2% Norwegian ancestry.
There were 260,800 households out of which 35.90% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.80% were married couples living together, 11.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.90% were non-families. 24.30% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.60% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.60 and the average family size was 3.10.
In the county, the population was spread out with 27.20% under the age of 18, 9.80% from 18 to 24, 31.30% from 25 to 44, 21.50% from 45 to 64, and 10.20% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 98.90 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.70 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $45,204, and the median income for a family was $52,098. Males had a median income of $38,510 versus $28,580 for females. The per capita income for the county was $20,948. About 7.50% of families and 10.50% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.20% of those under age 18 and 7.20% of those age 65 or over.
As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 795,225 people, 299,918 households, and 202,174 families residing in the county. The population density was 476.3 inhabitants per square mile (183.9/km2). There were 325,375 housing units at an average density of 194.9 per square mile (75.3/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 74.2% white, 6.8% black or African American, 6.0% Asian, 1.4% American Indian, 1.3% Pacific islander, 3.5% from other races, and 6.8% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 9.2% of the population. In terms of ancestry, 20.5% were German, 13.1% were Irish, 10.7% were English, 6.3% were Norwegian, and 4.2% were American.
Of the 299,918 households, 35.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.0% were married couples living together, 13.0% had a female householder with no husband present, 32.6% were non-families, and 25.1% of all households were made up of individuals. The average household size was 2.59 and the average family size was 3.09. The median age was 35.9 years.
The median income for a household in the county was $57,869 and the median income for a family was $68,462. Males had a median income of $50,084 versus $38,696 for females. The per capita income for the county was $27,446. About 8.1% of families and 11.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.0% of those under age 18 and 8.2% of those age 65 or over.
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The logo often used to depict county government services and departments
Pierce County has adopted and is governed by a Charter. This is allowed by section 4 of Article XI of the Washington State Constitution. The Pierce County Executive, currently Bruce Dammeier (R), heads the county's executive branch. The Assessor-Treasurer Mike Lonergan, auditor Julie Anderson, Prosecuting Attorney Mary Robnett, and Sheriff Paul A. Pastor hold the countywide elected executive positions.
The Pierce County Council is the elected legislative body for Pierce County and consists of seven members elected by district. The council is vested with all law-making power granted by its charter and by the State of Washington, sets county policy through the adoption of ordinances and resolutions, approves the annual budget and directs the use of county funds. The seven members of the County Council are elected from each of seven contiguous and equally populated districts, with each councilmember representing approximately 114,000 county residents. Each county councilmember is elected to serve a four-year term.
Dave Morell (R), District 1
Pam Roach (R), District 2
Jim McCune (R), District 3
Connie Ladenburg (D), District 4
Marty Campbell (D), District 5
Douglas Richardson (R), District 6—Chair
Derek Young (D), District 7
Beneath the Washington Supreme Court and the Washington Court of Appeals, judicial power rests first in the Pierce County Superior Court, which is divided into 22 departments - each headed by an elected judge, as well as a clerk of the superior court and eight superior court commissioners. Below that is the Pierce County District Court - with eight elected judges, the Tacoma Municipal Court - with three elected judges, and the Pierce County Juvenile Court. Tacoma houses the Pierce County Courthouse.
The people of Pierce County voted on November 5, 1918 to create a Port District. The Port of Tacoma is Pierce County's only Port District. It is governed Port of Tacoma Commission - five Port Commissioners, who are elected at-large countywide and serve four-year terms. The Port of Tacoma owns six container terminals, one grain terminal and an auto import terminal; all of which are leased out to foreign and domestic corporations to operate. In addition, the port owns and operates two breakbulk cargo terminals.
Many charter amendments have been on the ballot in the last five years, but sequential numbering does not carry over from year-to-year.
Pierce County, like most Western Washington counties, is considered a reliably Democratic county. However, due to the large military presence, it is slightly less Democratic than the neighboring counties, particularly King County. In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton became the first Democrat, since her husband Bill Clinton 1992, to carry Pierce County with less than 50 percent of the vote.
Pierce County is split between four U.S. congressional districts:
Washington's 6th congressional district includes the city of Tacoma west of Washington State Route 7, Gig Harbor, and the Key Peninsula. The 6th district has been represented since 2013 by Derek Kilmer (Democrat).
Washington's 8th congressional district covers the eastern half of the county, from Bonney Lake east to Mt. Rainier. The 8th district has been represented since 2019 by Kim Schrier (Democrat).
Washington's 9th congressional district, which following the 2011 redistricting now only includes Northeast Tacoma and the Port of Tacoma in Pierce County. The 9th district has been represented since 1997 by Adam Smith (Democrat).
Washington's 10th congressional district, newly created in the 2011 redistricting, contains much of the territory in Pierce County lost by the 9th Congressional district including parts of the city of Tacoma south of I-5 and east of Washington State Route 7, Puyallup, Lakewood, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The new 10th district has only ever been represented since its creation in 2013 by Denny Heck (Democrat).
Presidential elections results
The largest public employer in Piece County is Joint Base Lewis–McChord, which contributes about 60,000 military and civilian jobs. The largest private employers are MultiCare Health System and CHI Franciscan Health, which operate the two largest hospitals in the county.
Pierce County agriculture has been an instrumental part of the local economy for almost 150 years. However, in the last half century much of the county's farmland has been transformed into residential areas. Pierce County has taken aggressive steps to reverse this trend; the county recently created the Pierce County Farm Advisory Commission. This advisory board helps local farmers with the interpretation of land use regulations as well as the promotion of local produce. The creation of the Pierce County Farm Advisory Commission will attempt to save the remaining 48,000 acres of Pierce County farmland. Despite the loss of farmland, Pierce County continues to produce about 50% of the United States' rhubarb.
The following is a list of all sixteen public school districts in Pierce County, Washington:
Dieringer School District
Bethel School District
Carbonado School District
Clover Park School District
Eatonville School District
Fife School District
Franklin Pierce School District
Orting School District
Peninsula School District
Puyallup School District
Steilacoom Historical School District
Sumner-Bonney Lake School District
Tacoma Public Schools
University Place School District
White River School District
Yelm School District
Private schools include the Cascade Christian Schools group, Life Christian School and Academy, Bellarmine, Annie Wright Schools and Charles Wright Academy. Libraries include the Pierce County Library System, the Tacoma Library System, and the Puyallup Public Library.
The largest institutions of higher education are University of Puget Sound in Tacoma and Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland. Both are religiously affiliated private universities.
Tacoma Community College in Tacoma and Pierce College in Steilacoom are public community colleges. Bates Technical College and Clover Park Technical College are public technical colleges.
Central Washington University has a branch campus in Steilacoom. University of Washington Tacoma is a branch campus of University of Washington.The Evergreen State College also has a campus in Tacoma.
The Pierce County Library is the fourth largest library system in the state. There are currently 20 branches, including:
Administrative Center and Library
The Pierce County Library System currently employs 394 people, and serves 579,970 citizens throughout 1,773 square miles. Established in 1944, the library system serves all of unincorporated Pierce County, as well as annexed cities and towns of: Bonney Lake, Buckley, DuPont, Eatonville, Edgewood, Fife, Gig Harbor, Lakewood, Milton, Orting, South Prairie, Steilacoom, Sumner, University Place and Wilkeson. There are currently more than 1 million physical materials (books, videos, etc.) in the system, and more than 480,000 online or downloadable media items. Total 2016 general fund revenue is estimated at $29,709,541.
The Port of Tacoma is the sixth busiest container port in North America, and one of the 25 busiest in the world, and it plays an important part in the local economy. This deep-water port covers 2,400 acres (9.7 km?) and offers a combination of facilities and services including 34 deepwater berths, two million square feet (190,000 m?) of warehouse and office space, and 131 acres (530,000 m?) of industrial yard. One economic impact study showed that more the 28,000 jobs in Pierce County are related to the Port activities.
Pierce County is home to Pierce County Airport and Tacoma Narrows Airport, both are general aviation airports.
Pierce County's official transportation provider is Pierce Transit. It provides buses, paratransit, and rideshare vehicles. The regional Sound Transit runs the Tacoma Link light rail line through downtown Tacoma, and provides several regional express buses. Sound Transit also runs Sounder, the regional commuter railroad through Pierce County that stops in the following places: Sumner, Puyallup, Tacoma, South Tacoma, and Lakewood. Amtrak also travels through the county with a stop in Tacoma. Also, Intercity Transit provides transportation between Tacoma, Lakewood, and Thurston County.
On December 18, 2017, an Amtrak train derailed in the county, at an overpass over southbound Interstate 5, hitting several vehicles. Thirteen of 14 rail cars derailed, killing three on board the train, and injuring dozens more on board and on the highway.
I-5.svg Interstate 5
I-705.svg Interstate 705
WA-7.svg State Route 7
WA-16.svg State Route 16 (Tacoma Narrows Bridge)
WA-99.svg State Route 99
WA-167.svg State Route 167
WA-410.svg State Route 410
WA-512.svg State Route 512
Steilacoom-Anderson Island Ferry
Arts and culture
Pierce County boasts a thriving arts and culture community. Arts organizations within Pierce County include: the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, Grand Cinema, Lakewood Playhouse, Museum of Glass, Northwest Sinfonietta, Speakeasy Arts Cooperative, Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma Little Theater, Tacoma Concert Band, Tacoma Musical Playhouse, Tacoma Opera, Symphony Tacoma, Dance Theater Northwest, Washington State History Museum and others. WintergrassWintergrass Home, a yearly festival that takes place over several days in February every year, was honored in 2005 as "Bluegrass Festival of the year in 2005". (It was moved to Bellevue starting in 2010.) The City of Tacoma celebrates "Art at Work" month every November to encourage participation and support for the arts community in that city. ArtsFund, a regional United Arts Fund, has been supporting the arts community in Pierce County since 1969. LeMay-America’s Car Museum opened in 2012 in Tacoma. The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, founded in 1983 in Tacoma, houses the world's largest private collection of original manuscripts and documents.
There are several good city guides to the arts and culture scene: Travel Tacoma + Pierce County, Exit 133, TakePartInArt.org, and FeedTacoma.com are among the most popular.
Every year in April, the Pierce County Daffodil Festival and Parade is held. Established in 1934, it is one of the regions prominent attractions. It is also home to the Washington State Fair, held every September in Puyallup. The Washington State Fair is nationally accredited and recognized.
Pierce County became a hot bed for gangs, drugs and criminal activity starting in the mid to late 1980s. Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood was ravaged by gangs peddling crack-cocaine and the resulting gang violence. Due to increased police patrols and community watch programs, the neighborhood calmed down in the mid to late 2000s. However due to developing in certain areas, gentrification has sent gangs across the county. As of 2006, 38% of the methamphetamine labs (138 sites) cleaned up by the Washington Department of Ecology were in Pierce County. This reduction from a high of 589 labs in 2001 comes in part to a new law restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine and in part due to tougher prison sentences for methamphetamine producers.
Tacoma (county seat)
North Fort Lewis
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