Editorial: Removing Shevlin Park bridge may be right, but it feels so wrong

August 12, 2018
Editorial: Removing Shevlin Park bridge may be right, but it feels so wrong

The Bend Park & Recreation District can, and has, made a completely reasonable case to scrap the covered trestle bridge spanning Tumalo Creek in Shevlin Park. It may even be the right decision. Why, then, does it seem so soulless?

The district argues, correctly, that the bridge sits several hundred feet upstream from a newer bridge and is, thus, largely redundant. It argues that the bridge is in poor condition, that the concrete abutments upon which it sits channelize the creek unnaturally and that the covered part is just a movie prop anyway. It was never meant to last forever.

All true.

Meanwhile, there are plans and partnerships to consider. Ripping out the structure and abutments, district officials explain in a report prepared for an Aug. 7 board meeting, “will restore the riparian corridor through revegetation of the river bank with native trees and shrubs.

These ecological improvements are in keeping with the goals of the Shevlin Park Recreation Management Plan and support from the district’s broader partnership with Upper Deschutes Watershed Council for riparian restoration along the Deschutes River and Tumalo Creek.”

All true as well, no doubt. But it’s hard to reconcile this joyless bureaucratese with the district’s motto, which in some fashion guides its actions: “play for life.”

Despite its shabby condition, its redundancy and those unnatural concrete abutments, a lot of people seem to have a great affection for the bridge.

The typical Bulletin story might generate a Facebook comment or two, but reporter Kyle Spurr’s recent story about the district’s plan to remove the bridge next summer produced dozens.

Some were of the “whatever” variety. But most expressed sadness and a desire either to preserve it or to get a photo before it’s too late. And for every person who thought to comment, there are likely dozens, at least, with similar sentiments.

The bridge is liked, in part, because of the role it played in the 1993 Disney movie for which it was covered, “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.” It appears to be liked in even greater measure, though, for the simple reason that it’s fun.

Who doesn’t enjoy crossing Tumalo Creek on a covered bridge, even one at which covered-bridge purists turn up their noses? It’s one of the things that make Shevlin Park unique.

And talk to anyone who’s taken their children to Shevlin Park over the past quarter century. The thing’s a kid magnet. It’s impossible to quantify the value of a structure whose primary purpose is to make the park a place kids (and others) love to go, but that value still exists.

Besides, it wouldn’t be the only asset, or the most expensive, on which the district decided to spend money solely for the production of fun. A certain whitewater park on the Deschutes River comes to mind.

One wonders why the district allowed the bridge to fall into such disrepair in the first place. But, to its credit, it has looked into the cost of replacing it.

According to district development manager Brian ­Hudspeth, it would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000 to $350,000 to build a replacement covered bridge. Installing a narrow bridge like the new one slightly downstream, by comparison, costs somewhere between $65,000 and $100,000.

The bridge, by the way, is not entirely redundant. It creates a trail connection allowing people hiking along Tumalo Creek to avoid walking on pavement for about 500 feet. Will the district create a new trail to replace the one that will disappear? Maybe, says Hudspeth.

Replacing the covered bridge may or may not be worth it. That depends who you ask.

The money clearly wouldn’t be well spent in the district’s view. And Hudspeth says few people have expressed opposition to the district’s plans.

We suspect that the district’s assumptions about public sentiment are off-base. We also hope that the district is willing to listen and reconsider if support for the bridge builds as its execution date nears next summer.

In the meantime, hurry up and get your pictures.

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