The Forest Service has replaced five bridges along the Taylor Creek Trail near Galice. - Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

5 for 1

The wet hiking boots that have become commonplace for those traversing the Taylor Creek Trail near Galice will be comfortably dry thanks to a passel of volunteers and David Scovell's ability to turn one bridge into five.

Scovell parlayed a $150,000 grant into enough materials to replace five failed bridges on the Taylor Creek Trail, connecting the lower eight miles of the 11.3-mile Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest trail along this middle Rogue River tributary for the first time in six years.

Scovell designed the five spans to support everything from hikers and bikers to horseback riders who have had to slog through the creek since the old, primitive bridges were either closed or washed out.

He found the money to pay for them and helped arrange more than a month's worth of work parties by in-house Forest Service labor and volunteers ranging from trained backwoods workers on loan from a local club to a community corrections crew.

"We weren't sure we were going to get all five done, but we did," says Scovell, the forest's bridge engineer.

"Trail bridges have been abandoned and ignored for a long time," Scovell says. "It's good to see some progress. And I like trail bridges."

So do the hikers and mountain bikers who have made this out-of-the-way trail near the Rogue River outpost of Galice a recreational destination and summer respite along the cool, meandering creek.

Only a Boy Scout troop on a clear-weather day is needed to put the finishing touches on the five-bridge project. The original $150,000 grant would have covered the cost of just one bridge had the work gone to a private contractor.

"It's pretty remarkable," forest spokeswoman Chamise Kramer says. "It seems almost impossible that all five of those bridges were built. It just shows what amazing cooperation we had with the community on this."

It also could create a new kind of paradigm for the Forest Service as it grapples with rotting trail infrastructure.

"I think that was a really good move if they want to get caught up on the bridge problem that's starting to surface," says Gabe Howe, executive director of the Ashland-based Siskiyou Mountain Club, who donated work from his three-person crew for two days last week.

"It also creates a buy-in for the Forest Service," he says. "They're getting their boots back on the ground. It's awesome." 

For decades the Forest Service used a decidedly low-tech approach to backwoods trails like this one. They would typically fall a large streamside tree across the water, slap on some deck planks and call it good.

Those tree-spans usually have a lifespan of 15 to 17 years before they rot out, Scovell says. They can't be swapped out for treated wood because it is illegal to put those chemicals in construction wood used within 50 feet of native salmon and steelhead habitat such as Taylor Creek, he says.

Most of the Taylor Creek bridges were built in the 1990s, and when Scovell came to the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in 2010, one of his early duties was bridge inventories.

He didn't like what he saw across the forest, especially along Taylor Creek.

"They were cattywampus," Scovell says. "They weren't looking good, but people were still using them even though they were unsafe."

Scovell closed the bridges, two of which soon fell in on their own. The other three were removed.

Hikers, horse riders and mountain bikers who still wanted access to the picturesque trail had to wade the creek, which meant pretty dicey escapades for crossing in all but low summer conditions.

It looked like wet feet were to be the new norm until 2012, when the Forest Service's regional office put out a call for capital improvement grant requests. Scovell fired off a proposal and he got the $150,000, but he had to wait until this year to get it.

He went out for bids for materials, settling on untreated Alaskan white cedar because it will last twice as long as a felled fir.

One low wood bid came in at $148,000, so the project was good to go.

It put Scovell and forest technician G. "Rhino" Prince in the woods regularly with varying levels of help while putting their backwoods puzzles together.

"In everything we do, we always run into situations where we have to learn," says Prince, who worked on all five bridges. "It was really fun."

The new bridges are higher than the old ones to keep them out of high water, so gravel had to be hauled in and packed at each approach.

They are also longer. One is 40 feet long, two are 45 feet, another is 48 feet and the longest one is 67 feet. Also, they are all a uniform 6 feet wide and designed for horses, bicycles and pedestrians.

Now those boots, tires and hooves should be nice and dry along Taylor Creek Trail for another 30 years.

"It's a sweet creek," Scovell says. "Glad we did it."

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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