The Last Piece of the American Fire Puzzle
The Swinging Bridge is finally back in business! The bridge, which spans the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the American River at the base of the Devil’s Thumb climb, has been restored and brought back from the ashes following the 2013 American Fire. This was accomplished jointly with USFS employees and WStrail.org volunteers. The USFS did a stellar job in getting the bridge done exactly one year after the American Fire was contained. As Craig Thornley, WSER RD, stated, “This USFS team did exactly what they said per our recovery plan in late 2013 — they delivered in a big way — huge thanks”.
The bridge work was completed over 5 days, but many days of planning, procurement, logistics and staging happened before the actual helicopter drops of material and equipment into Devil’s Basin. We had a large volunteer crew on the ground watching the material being dropped into the canyon on Monday September 15th. “This is actually amazing how good these helicopter pilots are — pin point precision”, stated Bryan Cowger, WSTrail.org volunteer. Monday with the big volunteer crew along with USFS Engineer Ryan Mack’s direction we got the material staged at the bridge in 4 hours. Tuesday construction started with a small crew of USFS personnel and several volunteers. The days were long and there was a lot accomplished through Thursday. The bridge was nearing completion when the plug was pulled Thursday 9/18, and the crews removed due to safety and air quality concerns brought to us by yes another fire — the King Fire.
The King Fire was a fast mover, and actually moved very fast from Pollock Pines along the US 50 corridor to the north, and went all the way to the 2001 Star Fire burn, which in 2001 decimated 14 miles of the historic Western States Trail. The firefighters did their amazing magic, and with the luck of mother nature — a rain storm — the fire has been controlled (the King fire is 98% contained as of 10-3-14)
As the King Fire was reaching containment, and with the air quality improved, USFS personnel and a small volunteer crew were allowed to go back to the Swinging Bridge re-build on Monday September 29th. After another long day this crew got the job done and the bridge was historically restored. All the equipment and some of the old burned up materials were removed. These materials are being stored at the WSER Warehouse for historical safe keeping.
This was the final piece in a very long trail year that mainly focused on American Fire Recovery. Volunteers along with our strong USFS partner made this happen. Thanks to all who have helped either with sweat equity, planning, leadership or financial support. These volunteer and agency assets allow us to keep this precious resource, the Western States Trail, open.
Big Thanks… Put a fork in it — it’s done!!!
The Monday Helicopter Drop Volunteer Crew
Matt Brownlee, USFS American River Ranger District Trails Manager
From top left Joe Larkin (WSTF volunteer), Ryan Mack (USFS), Luke Haworth (USFS), Dan Manry (USFS), Mark Lambert (retired USFS), John Catts (WSER volunteer), Dave Noxon (USFS), Craig Thornley (WSER volunteer), Matt Brownlee (USFS)