Renovated railroad trestle connects east and west

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Strong winds swept across the Beverly Bridge, but the challenging weather didn’t stop crowds from inaugurating the Beverly Bridge, the newest link in the Washington State Park system’s Palouse-to-Cascades State Trail.

Governor Jay Inslee joined a crowd of more than 300 to officially open the former railroad trestle near Vantage to walkers, cyclists and horse riders on April 8.

A $6 million facelift transformed the abandoned railroad trestle into a friendly transition with new decking and guardrails high enough to accommodate people on horses. It connects the two sides of the East-West Trail and eliminates the need to hike north to the Interstate 90 bridge to cross the Columbia River.

State engineers noted that the freeway bridge lacks any semblance of facilities for non-motorists, making it a “brutal” proposition for trail users crossing from side to side.

Beverly Bridge is more than a convenient bridge. A worthy destination in its own right, it offers sweeping views of a stretch of the Columbia that has been home to indigenous tribes for millennia.

The children of the late Rex Buck, leader of the Wanapum’s Priest Rapids band, spoke of a landscape nurtured by Native Americans — and nurtured long before a railroad came through.

Johnny Buck said it was home to an 18-mile village and gathering place. His sister, Lelah Buck, invited future users to experience the sanctity of the area.

The governor hailed the renovation as a commitment to the state’s clean energy future and a symbol of “one Washington” that reflects his position between the two sides of the state.

He did a dig in California, noting that Washington has the Beverly Bridge and “California has the Beverly Hillbillies.”

More seriously, the bridge is the culmination of decades of work to complete the State Trail along the former Milwaukie Road rail corridor, which stretches from Cedar Falls, an unincorporated community in King County, to the Idaho border.

It carries the Washington state portion of the Great American Rail-Trail, a project in progress that will connect Washington state and Washington, DC

A Toppenish man working on the rehabilitation fell to his death during construction.

The Department of Labor and Industry has fined Bellingham contractor Boss Construction Inc. $284,000 for safety violations that resulted in the death of Gabriel Zelaya, 39. The speakers honored his sacrifice and welcomed his family to the ceremony.

The railroad bridge was built in 1909 as part of the Milwaukie Road Pacific Extension, an electric railroad that failed in the early 1970s. By 1980 the bridge was abandoned. The wheels of a railcar that crashed onto the island below are still visible.

What happened next is a testament to the vision of hikers, cyclists and backcountry horsemen who wanted the old railway corridor to be open to the public, said Ralph Munro, who was elected Secretary of State in 1981.

Munro, 78, said the rail corridor presents a rare opportunity. Visionaries have spied on a nationwide public access corridor. Agricultural interests opposed it.

Just a year ago, critics called it a waste of money for a project that would only reach a few hundred users a year.

There were many ideas about what to do, Munro recalled.

“If the cyclists, the horse people and the trail people keep at it, it’s going to happen,” Munro recalled.

In the end, the state paid $4.3 million for the Milwaukie Road and named it the John Wayne Pioneer Trail after making a concession to a fan of the late Western icon.

“A member of the House of Representatives wouldn’t vote for it unless they were named after John Wayne, so that’s where ‘John Wayne’ came from,” Munro explained. The John Wayne Pioneer Trail was renamed in 2018.

As the path took shape on either side of the river, the bridge itself withered away. A fire destroyed some of its components.

In 2017, preservationists took notice, said Chris Moore, executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Trust added the range to its list of “most vulnerable properties”. That alone would not have been enough to save it. But opportunity smiled in the form of BNSF Railway. The railroad had to remove three historic railroad bridges that crossed Columbia.

Moore said the Trust could not block their removal but could mitigate the impact. The Beverly Bridge, a steel truss structure considered a feat of early 20th century engineering, was the ideal candidate. A change of use would save the bridge and support the trail vision.

The BNSF provided US$125,000 for a feasibility study that determined the costs associated with the conversion.

The project was included in the state project budget and supported by the governor. The legislature included it in the capital budget and work picked up speed. In addition to Boss, the project team included civil engineer Exeltech Consulting and project manager Adam Fulton of Washington State Parks.

Moore said the Beverly Bridge shows the powerful influence of dedicated advocates.

“What I wanted to convey is that advocacy is hugely important,” he said.

The bridge is approximately 90 minutes from the Tri-Cities via the Vantage Highway. Users can access it from the city of Beverly to the east, or take I-90 to Vantage and head seven miles south on Wanapum/Hunzinger Road to the trailhead.

Learn more about the Palouse to Cascades Trail at parks.wa.gov/521/Palouse-to-Cascades.

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