New bridge brought in by helicopter to Eagle Creek Trail - KPTV - FOX 12

New bridge brought in by helicopter to Eagle Creek Trail

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COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE, OR (KPTV) -

A bridge over a popular trail in the Columbia River Gorge has finally been replaced, more than a year after it was damaged in a winter storm.

The process of replacing that bridge spanning Tish Creek was quite a thing to see, and it almost didn’t happen.

The U.S. Forest Service waited for weeks to replace the bridge and had hoped to have a window of opportunity last week but realized the trail wasn’t fit for foot traffic.

“It was so bad from all the slides and snow and ice that you would have needed mountaineering gear to get in there,” U.S. Forest Service public affairs officer Rachel Pawlitz said.

Volunteers from the Pacific Crest Trail Association spent four days making the trail usable. Tuesday was supposed to be the day the new bridge would be brought in, but the weather again threatened to cancel the operation.

The whole replacement relies on one very large helicopter and the weather cooperating, and a break in the clouds just before noon presented an opportunity, though the helicopter first had to make its way to the old bridge and remove it.

“We need some clear visibility. We need 1000 feet of ceiling,” explained a volunteer. “Right now we’re just waiting on the weather to lift up a little bit.”

In a matter of minutes, the old bridge was at the trailhead, where its replacement sat on a flatbed trailer.

Tuesday was literally the last day the Forest Service could try the bridge replacement, because of rules in place to protect the spotted owl. If they hadn’t got a break in the weather, they would have had to wait all the way until October.

“The morning started out kind of clear, and I got my hopes up, then a little rain came through, and it was a bit of a nail biter there for a while,” Pawlitz said.

Once it had been removed, it was easy to see why the old bridge, which was damaged when it a tree fell on it last winter, needed replacing.

“It was immediately apparent it wasn’t safe for use, so we put a sign and we legally closed the bridge, and we asked people not to cross the creek,” Pawlitz said. “However, that’s a pretty popular trail, and quite a few people were crossing the creek.”

Tuesday the stars would line up, though, and it was out with the old and in with the new as the replacement bridge was lowered into place, coming in over the treetops.

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