Move afoot to move Wheeler Memorial Footbridge

A feasibility study would be required.
Paul Wahl

Wallowa County Chieftain

Published on December 20, 2017 8:46AM

The Wheeler Memorial Footbridge on the Boy Scout property near Wallowa Lake was constructed under the auspices of several Rotary Clubs in 1996.

Submitted photo/Ralph Swinehart

The Wheeler Memorial Footbridge on the Boy Scout property near Wallowa Lake was constructed under the auspices of several Rotary Clubs in 1996.

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A plan has been hatched to move the bridge in its entirety to where it will once again serve the purpose for which it was built.

Rick Bombaci, working with the Wallowa Mountain Hells Canyon Trails Association, outlined the proposal before the Rotary Club Wallowa County Dec. 13. Wallowa, along with clubs in Baker and LaGrande, built the original bridge in 1996.

The structure was dedicated to the memory of David Jack Wheeler, a U.S. Forest Service employee who was killed in the line of duty in Idaho in 1995.

Bombaci, who participated in the original building of what is often known as the Boy Scout Bridge, said the proposal has several facets.

The new location would span BC Creek, which can reach levels where crossing on foot is dangerous. It would also create a loop in the trail system at Wallowa Lake State Park, a plus for hikers.

And it would restore a memorial to an individual who touched countless lives through his job and in his personal life.

Ralph Swinehart, who designed the original bridge, said he and Bombaci have examined the structure along with other bridge engineers and determined it can be moved.

A feasibility study would be required. The plan is to dismantle the major pieces and have the Oregon National Guard move the anchoring ends by helicopter to the new spot. Then the rope supports would be reattached.

The move would be a couple hundred yards, but 1,000 feet higher in elevation. No cost estimates have been determined. Presentations are also planned to the other Rotary Clubs that participated in the original build.

Camp Wallowa on the Wallowa River opened in 1939 as a Boy Scout camp when Pacific Power and Light Co. donated the land to the Blue Mountain Council, based in the Tri-Cities in Washington, in 1947.

The 90 acres was leased to the nonprofit Creating Memories in July 2014. That organization has been working on the facility in hopes of creating a resort for disabled individuals.

Last week, the nonprofit’s board gave its approval for the bridge project, Bombaci said.

“They only wanted to be sure the plaque would go with the bridge, and they want a letter from the trails association describing the proposal for their official consideration,” he said.

The matter also requires the approval of the Boy Scouts. The Blue Mountain Council is expected to consider it in February 2019. The U.S. Forest Service, which has been supportive, will also need to sign off before work can commence.


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