All Over The Map: Work begins to reconnect Beverly Bridge to past and future

Mar 12, 2021, 5:01 AM | Updated: 9:48 am

Work has just gotten underway to make a historic railroad bridge across the Columbia River safe for hikers, bikers, and people on horseback.

Once the improvements are finished later this year, safe access to the Beverly Bridge will eliminate a pretty serious missing link in the Palouse to Cascades Trail, according to Adam Fulton, project engineer for Washington State Parks.

“Basically, the only crossing of the river that’s nearby and relatively along the trail is actually about seven miles north and it’s I-90,” Fulton told KIRO Radio. “And, sadly, I-90 has neither a sidewalk nor bike lanes and, to my knowledge, barely a shoulder, and so crossing the Columbia in that vicinity is pretty dicey.”

The Beverly Bridge is about 20 miles east of another historic railroad structure known as the Renslow Trestle, which KIRO listeners learned about earlier this year. This historic (and very visible) structure spans I-90 east of Ellensburg and is also part of the Palouse to Cascades Trail. Renslow Trestle is almost ready to open to pedestrians, equestrians, and bikers after work there was delayed somewhat by winter weather.

Both Renslow Trestle and Beverly Bridge are left over pieces of infrastructure built by the Milwaukee Road – full name: the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad – a rail line that connected Seattle to the Midwest from about 1910 to 1980.

The Beverly Bridge is 3,000 feet long and crosses the Columbia River about seven miles south of Vantage – that’s the well-known spot where I-90 crosses the mighty river of the west. The railroad span at Beverly was built between 1906 and 1909.

Beverly, the former railroad town on the east side of the river, was named for the town of Beverly, Massachusetts by Milwaukee Road official H.R. Williams, who, according to Edmond Meany, “introduced many eastern names along the western line.” Beverly, Massachusetts (which also inspired Beverly Hills, California) is named for the differently “Beverley” in the United Kingdom. The UK name may mean “beaver-clearing” or “beaver-lake.”

Fulton says that work is expected to take through the summer, and involves the placement of 336 precast concrete panels, measuring about 10 by 13 feet, to form the surface of the trail, where once wooden railroad ties and steel rails carried long passenger and freight trains over the water. The project also includes installation of a safety railing on each side of the trail designed to accommodate bikers and pedestrians, as well as equestrians.

Many groups who use the Palouse to Cascades Trail – such as the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association, an organization whose name reflects the trail’s former name – were critical in helping secure state funding of $5.75 million for the bridge improvements, according to Adam Fulton.

Some of those same groups, Fulton says, will work to add interpretive panels along the bridge at the seven “view platforms” where the path widens slightly.

“The Columbia River is a collection of waters and this bridge is a collection of stories,” said an obviously excited Fulton. “And the stories range from the local tribal history, to the geology, to the railroad, to the economics of the dams.”

“I mean, it’s just this fascinating epicenter, if you will, of historic interest,” Fulton said. “I tell you what, I am working on the eighth wonder of the world, and I feel entirely blessed to be [doing so].”

If you can’t wait until the end of summer, or even if you don’t ever plan to cross the Beverly Bridge yourself, Fulton says there is a terrific view of the structure – and the landscape beyond — from the east side of the river looking to the southwest.

“When you come at it from the east side [of the Columbia River] and you’re looking south and west” toward a geologic feature known as Sentinel Gap — “you’re looking at, I think, something close to the Wallula Gap,” Fulton said, “which 12,000 years ago when Lake Missoula flooded and created the scablands of Eastern Washington, this is one of the spots where that all that deluge of water gushed through and created these fantastic landscapes not unlike Dry Falls.”

Next on the horizon for Fulton and Washington State Parks in improving the Palouse to Cascades Trail is replacement of the Crab Creek Trestle, a structure 10 miles east of Beverly that burned a few years ago in a wildfire. Depending on funding and other unpredictable events, that work could be done as early as 2023.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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All Over The Map: Work begins to reconnect Beverly Bridge to past and future