For those aware that the Washington state Legislature’s capital budget for 2019-2021 includes funding for three projects along the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail (PTCSPT), things might appear to be happening very quickly. But for Methow Valley resident and Palouse to Cascades Trail Coalition board member and treasurer Fred Wert, it’s been a 30-plus year journey to get this close to having an aesthetically rational and geographically appealing rail-trail across the state.
Fred is a bit of a pioneer of and advocate for rail-trail systems, serving as the first executive director of the Washington state chapter of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and authoring “Washington’s Rail-Trails” in 1982.
Fred grew up around railroads and has long been an avid cyclist. “My father was a railroad man,” he says. “I’ve always been aware of railroads, of where they go, and of the potential for huge recreational opportunities to anyone to ride or walk to places they otherwise couldn’t go.”
A place that Fred and other coalition members envisioned a rail-trail going was across Washington state: 285 miles on an old railroad route that spans from the western slopes of the Cascades to the Idaho border. “Imagine,” says Fred, “you can travel the longest rail-trail in the state, starting on the forested west side, passing through the farmlands of the Yakima Valley, crossing the Columbia, traveling through the dramatic scablands area, and all the way into the Palouse without being on a highway.”
The rail-trail currently exists; it is a National Recreational Trail and is featured by the Great American Rail-Trail movement. It’s used by walkers, horseback riders, wagon trains, bikers, rail historians and other trail enthusiasts. It goes through numerous ecosystems, small towns, over bridges and rivers, through agricultural land, and across the high desert. Sounds incredible, eh?
But there are a couple of roadblocks — literally. Some trestles need rebuilding or replacing in order to be passable, and until those repairs happen, detours are required. The biggest project, however, involves renovating the historic Beverly Bridge, near Vantage, which has been unsuitable for any kind of foot or vehicle traffic since the rail-trail was conceived, necessitating massive detours on roads unfit and/or unpleasant for recreational travel.
That’s about to change, though. (We’re talking about a governmental timeline here, with permitting, inter-agency negotiations, etc., but still — things are underway.) With a swell of public interest in the trail, the tireless efforts of the coalition, the recent state funding, and the Washington State Parks hiring of engineer and part-time Pine Forest resident Adam Fulton, the Beverly Bridge is going to be one bridge we can all cross when we come to it.
Erected in 1909, the Beverly Bridge was built by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad to cross the Columbia River. It spans 3,339 feet and is 85 feet high. It’s elegant, it’s historic, and it’s structurally fairly sound, but it’s not safe for travel due to the absence of decking and railings. It’s not designed to be easily retrofitted, says Fred. Adam adds that there are permitting requirements with the National Register of Historic Places and the Army Corps of Engineers.
But the biggest challenge is that the bridge — well — has all that water under it. Working on a bridge that crosses such a large river (“the state’s largest aquatic resource,” Adam calls it) presents its own set of complications, but that’s a problem that $5 million and Adam, who is managing the project, will take care of.
I’m not above a little exaggeration now and again, but I’ll admit it would be outright hyperbole to say that these two Methow guys are changing the face of rail-trail recreation in Washington. Still, it’s fun to think of a fairly significant Methow footprint on the landmark rail-trail that will be a legacy for future Washington residents and visitors.
“This is such a great project,” says Fred, who would be gushing, if he were the gushing type. “Converting this bridge for recreation is really exciting. Just think — walking across the Columbia River without cars beside you!”
Adam provides this spontaneous and heartfelt assessment of the project: “The rehabilitation of the Beverly Bridge linking the east and west portions of the Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail represents the culmination of excellent work and partnership between several governmental agencies and citizen interest groups. State Parks looks forward to completing this project and delivering this historic transportation asset to non-motorized trail users for generations to come.” Reading between the lines of the deadpan delivery of this bureaucratic statement, I sense that Adam is at least a little excited about the project.
Coincidentally, valley residents Michael Pritchard and Troy Ness cycled the PTCSPT in June, and had to take the 110-mile bypass around the Beverly Bridge. If they delay their next trip long enough, next time they won’t have to.