Building Bridges: more than just connecting trails

The work that volunteers put into the Pacific Crest Trail each season is astounding. They dedicate time and energy to clearing brush, creating new tread, sawing logs and, occasionally, building bridges. Although bridges are not a common PCT volunteer project, this year we have had a few dedicated groups with a vision, a plan and the mindset to finish the job.

The newly constructed bridge is nearly complete. Photo by Loren Schmidt.

An article published in the Summer 2019 issue of the Communicator Magazine highlighted the large amount of work contributed by PCTA North 350 Blades Chapter volunteers to replace an equestrian bridge on the PCT south of Highway 20. Supported by the US Forest Service and Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, these volunteers spent three summers working to replace a collapsed span over Bridge Creek.

The enthusiasm and commitment of this group of volunteers was outstanding, even after multiple roadblocks such as summer fire closures and winter storms. After completing much of the bridge last summer, volunteers returned in the spring of 2019 to finish what they started. They gathered at the home of Loren Schmidt, a volunteer with the North 350 Blades, and started construction on what would become the bridge’s rails.

Loren Schmidt tries out the new rails constructed of cedar trees from his farm.

Loren donated all the cedar trees for the rails from his tree farm in northern Washington. Seven volunteers spent more than 250 hours cutting, drilling, constructing and packing all the parts for the posts and railings. They would return a few weeks later to assemble the final pieces.

The commitment of this group of people reminds us that none of the PCTA’s work is possible without incredible and willing volunteers.

The final product — a beautiful bridge connecting the PCT for hikers and equestrians for years to come. Photo by Loren Schmidt.

A bit further south, PCTA Mount Hood Chapter volunteers started repairing a bridge near Eagle Creek damaged by the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. Although this section isn’t officially part of the PCT, it is a popular alternate route used by hikers. Mount Hood Chapter volunteers want to create a great experience for everyone, and they often work on trails in the Columbia River Gorge that are not the PCT or a PCT feeder.

This energetic bunch started the first day assembling the parts for the new bridge. From measuring and cutting wood blocks to staging the aluminum beams, crew members had a lot of work ahead of them before they could get out on the trail. Nonetheless, they always seem to have a great time!

A volunteer aligns the aluminum beams and measures for accuracy. Photo by Terry Hill.

On day two, they headed for the trailhead to dismantle the old bridge and haul it out. Temporary bridge planks had to be removed, as did burned beams and rotten sills. The crew was able to pour new concrete and add new sills, but the remaining work cannot continue until the concrete is set.

With the help of the U.S. Forest Service — in particular the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area — and the Gorge Trail Crew, they will return to finish construction at the end of August.

The crew dismantles the old bridge. Photo by Terry Hill.

Projects such as these show what is possible when you combine the energy and support of our partners, our donors, and our AMAZING volunteers. Thanks to everyone involved in these projects — and for your dedication in protecting, preserving and promoting the Pacific Crest Trail.

Author: Mila Benson

Mila Benson was the PCTA's Volunteer Programs Outreach Associate in 2020 but has since moved on to other opportunities. She's enthusiastic about stories that engage and inspire others to volunteer and view the trail through a new lens. Originally from North Idaho, Mila is passionate about all things outdoors and spends her free time exploring California.