Katy Nesbitt
The La Grande Observer

WALLOWA — Years in the planning, a bridge crossing an unnamed creek in Minam was moved to its new home Wednesday night, where it will span the Wallowa River from the Nez Perce Homeland Project to the city of Wallowa.

The aging bridge was earmarked for replacement several years ago, but because of its historic nature, Ken Patterson of the Oregon Department of Transportation said the state had to find a new home for it before replacing the span with one that meets current regulations. The Homeland Project, where the annual Tamkaliks Pow Wow is held, as well as tribal and community gatherings throughout the year, will be the Deer Creek Bridge’s new home.

The bridge was moved Wednesday night and into the early hours of Thursday morning through the windy Wallowa River Canyon. John Linder of ODOT said the bridge was hauled from Minam to the weigh station in the canyon, allowing traffic to move through. After the traffic cleared, the bridge completed the 13-mile trip.

Ralph Swinehart, a board member for the Nez Perce Homeland Project, said the Deer Creek and Bear Creek bridges are sister bridges. The county bought them in 1911, according to Swinehart.

The Deer Creek Bridge crossed the Wallowa River on Oregon State Highway 82. The Bear Creek Bridge spanned Bear Creek.

Swinehart said Deer Creek Bridge was moved from Wallowa to Minam in the 1930s, possibly around the time the highway was built. For many years, its primary use was to provide access to the forested acres of private land on top of the breaks of the Minam River. Deer Creek Road is in disrepair, but Patterson said it is still part of the county’s road inventory and could be an important access in times of wildfire.

In 2007, Swinehart said, the Homeland Project acquired the Bear Creek Bridge and a year later it
obtained a similar bridge used over Catherine Creek to be used on the 320-acre property. Neither bridge was long enough to span the Wallowa River, but the 110-foot Deer Creek Bridge is.

Swinehart said the bridge will be staged with the others until an access road is built over the soft ground along the river bank. Once the rock road is in place, the contractor, Carter and Co., will move in heavy equipment to reach the river where pile drivers and drills will be used to build the bridge abutments.

Swinehart said the Bear Creek Bridge will be moved to the west side of the river and used as an approach for the Deer Creek Bridge. The Catherine Creek Bridge will be part of a new project planned for the river by Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries, Swinehart said.

Swinehart said as soon as next year, the tribe wants to develop a side channel, creating a resting area for juvenile fish. He said this will create an island, and the Catherine Creek Bridge will provide access over the new side channel.

“Flood waters can still circulate under the bridge and it won’t cause a backup of water,” Swinehart said.

Eventually, if a trail is built along the Wallowa Union Railroad, Swinehart said the bridges and paths will tie in with it.

“A trail would leave the railroad right-of-way, come through the property and go back into the railroad right-of-way,” Swinehart said.

Moving the bridge has been on the state’s radar for several years. Linder said when the job to build the new bridge and move the old one went out to bid, the responses came in too high. The state and its contractor, Carter and Co., finally met in the middle on a price, Linder said.

Now all the pieces are in place and the bridge’s installation will be completed by Oct. 31, Linder said, and all work in Minam will be completed by Aug. 31.

“The instream work window is from July 15 to Aug. 15, so all work in the river must be done during that month,” he said.