Vancouver Land Bridge to mark 5th anniversary

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter


photoBeatrice Yoshioka, left, of Vancouver and Claudia Al-Amin of Portland stop during a stroll Wednesday on the Vancouver Land Bridge. The fifth anniversary of the Land Bridge will be celebrated Saturday.

(/The Columbian)

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For thousands of years, people followed that path north from the Columbia River.

Whether they arrived in tribal canoes or Hudson's Bay ships, they came ashore and headed toward a place that was one of the Northwest's biggest trading centers for centuries.

"It's how the community got started: from the river and up to the land," said Jane Jacobsen, executive director of the Confluence Project.

If you go

• What: Fifth anniversary of the Vancouver Land Bridge.

• When: 9 a.m. to

noon Saturday.

• Where: Ceremony at Old Apple Tree Park, 112 Columbia Way; events at Workers’ Village; tour at archaeology site.

Land Bridge anniversary schedule

Ceremony at Old Apple Tree Park, 112 Columbia Way; events at Workers’ Village.

All events are Saturday:

• 9 a.m.: N’chi Wanapum Canoe Family (Warm Springs), fancy dancing, singing and drumming.

• 9:30 a.m.: Ed Edmo, traditional storyteller.

• 10 a.m.: Welcome from Tim Leavitt, mayor of Vancouver; Tracy Fortmann, superintendent of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site; Antone Minthorn, former Umatilla chairman and Confluence Project board chairman; and artist Lillian Pitt.

• 10:15 a.m.: Procession over the Land Bridge, led by Northwest Indian Veterans Association Color Guard.

On Saturday, descendants of those tribal traders will join more recent arrivals in a walk along that path. It's part of a celebration marking the fifth anniversary of the Vancouver Land Bridge.

The walk will start at Old Apple Tree Park, where a 180-year-old holdover of the Hudson's Bay era still lives, and go

north toward the two re-created cabins representing the Workers Village at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. A few years ago, people couldn't access the Columbia from the replica Fort Vancouver stockade, not with a state highway and a rail line running along the river.

Actually, people wouldn't necessarily even know the Columbia River was there, said Doug Wilson, archaeologist at Fort Vancouver.

"You could tell people until you're blue in face that the river is over there," Wilson said.

He would try to point out a slender spire peeking up behind on the south side of the railroad berm; it replicates the mast of an 1840s sailing ship, he said. "That's about where the docks were on the river."

With a major transportation corridor bisecting the landscape, "It's hard to tell people how close the river is, and how the Old Apple Tree is tied to the village," Wilson said.

The Land Bridge designed by Maya Lin reconnected them.

It also brought together cultures and historical eras in a massive piece of sculpture. It includes the artwork of Lillian Pitt, who draws on the Northwest themes of her tribal ancestors with metal sculptures, as well as traditional basket patterns reproduced in brickwork.

The 1,500-foot-long structure is landscaped with native plants that provide a couple of perspectives on Northwest history. Plants like chokecherry, Oregon grape and serviceberry were part of the lives of native people; their uses are explained with entries from the journals of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

For all that, the bridge had some pretty humble roots.

More than a dozen years ago, the project came together. The goal, said Tracy Fortmann, superintendent of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, was "to provide access to the public through trails that are aligned with historic maps."

The highway and railroad weren't the only obstacles. When she arrived at Fort Vancouver, Fortmann said, the entire area to the west of the fort's three-story bastion was a blackberry patch.

"Archaeologists knew how significant" that ground was, Wilson said, "but nobody else did."

With the help of some machete-swinging brush-cutters, a few of the project partners waded into the thicket.

"There were a number of old homeless encampments, alcohol containers and syringes," Fortmann said.

Several pathway concepts were discussed over the years, including a tunnel under state Highway 14 and a pedestrian overpass encased in chain-link fencing.

Eventually, Maya Lin — award-winning creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. — came aboard. Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke — like Lin, a prominent Asian-American and Yale grad -- helped recruit her, Jacobsen said.

The biggest share of the $14 million project was financed by a $9 million federal grant for pedestrian transportation; about $4 million came from the state, with about $1 million from private funding.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558;;