WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Three years after it was condemned, the Burnt Cabin Creek Trail Bridge on the popular South Fork Walla Walla trail system is on a priority list to be replaced with funding through the Great American Outdoors Act.
Darcy Weseman, public affairs officer for the Umatilla National Forest, said U.S. Forest Service staff discovered the bridge was deteriorating in 2013. Following that discovery, it was periodically inspected by engineers to determine whether it was safe for public use until its permanent closure.
“In 2017, forest trail crews discovered that some of the structural supports had collapsed and other beams were severely rotted out,” she said. “This prompted the forest to implement the initial closure for public safety.”
The 120-foot-long bridge’s structural supports are severely rotted and could fail at any time, Weseman said. The bridge suffered some additional damage during this past winter’s flooding. If funding is approved, she said the bridge will be replaced with glulam stringers, multiple layers of solid wood lumber bonded together with high-strength adhesive to form a single structural unit.
The Burnt Cabin Trail provides access to hunting, fishing, camping and backpacking and is open to hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers and motorcyclists. The trail, near Tollgate, is roughly 25 miles from Weston. It is part of the South Fork Walla Walla trail system, accessed from either Target Meadows or at the intersection with the South Fork Walla Walla Trail No. 3225.
“The South Fork Walla Walla trail system also has regional significance due to its concentration of motorized single-track routes, and the Burnt Cabin Trail and bridge are a critical component of that trail system,” Weseman said.
The bridge is located 6 miles up the South Fork Walla Walla Trail at the junction of the Burnt Cabin Trail and South Fork Walla Walla Trail. The easiest access to the trail would be from Highway 204, to Forest Service Road 64, and then onto Forest Service Road 6401. Weseman said alternate access to the South Fork Walla Walla Trail is available via Rough Fork Trailhead or Deduct Trail.
The entire trail is currently closed, Weseman said, due to the bridge damage as well as flood damage that occurred in February.
The bridge and trail closure is hampering access to popular areas, prompting some to use the bridge anyway or ford the river, yet Weseman said going around the bridge is not recommended due to high water.
The Umatilla National Forest applied for funding through the Great American Outdoors Act, Weseman said, because repairing the bridge would improve visitor experience, access and safety while protecting the stream from further resource damage from users attempting to ford the river.
“Repairing this bridge has been of high public interest,” she said. “The forest has been unsuccessful in acquiring adequate funding to complete critical repairs, which has diminished public access.”
The Great American Outdoors Act, enacted Aug. 4, was passed to “address the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Indian Education, and to provide permanent, dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”
In all, the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Region prioritized 15 projects for funding under the act, which will help federal land managers catch up on deferred maintenance and other infrastructure projects.