Many walkers, runners, cyclists and sightseers love the Vancouver Land Bridge. “It is highly popular and used and loved,” said Confluence program manager Courtney Yilk.
But not that many people understand exactly what it is and what it does, Yilk said. That’s why Saturday’s big Earth Day volunteer work party on the bridge was also an educational outing. Volunteers with groups such as local Boy Scouts and The Mission Continues, a veterans organization that promotes ongoing service through volunteerism, didn’t just spread mulch, yank weeds and collect trash — they picked up some historical understanding, too.
The Vancouver Land Bridge is one of several architectural art projects along the Columbia River developed in the early 2000s to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark’s historical Corps of Discovery expedition through the American West. It’s a uniquely curving pedestrian overpass that links historic spots that once were one and the same — the fur-trading fort and the riverfront — before modern infrastructure including a railway and a highway got in the way. For about a century, Yilk said, the historic connection between the fort and the river was completely broken — until the Vancouver Land Bridge restored the link in 2008.
“You have to know our history to create a more thoughtful future,” said Confluence executive director Colin Fogarty.
Since then, Yilk said, Confluence — which works with the City of Vancouver and the National Park Service to maintain the bridge — has only hosted two big volunteer outings here. The first was last year on Earth Day and it was such a success, Yilk said, that Confluence decided to do it again this year.
“Honestly, I just like volunteering,” said Mitchell Evans of Portland, a Navy veteran with The Mission Continues. “It keeps you young. I like to stay young. I like to know what’s cool today. Today, volunteering is cool.”
Approximately 40 volunteers were on hand Saturday morning to spiff up the landscaping, scour for trash and listen to tales of the bridge and its significance. For example, the south side of the bridge is also the gated home of the legendary Old Apple Tree, reportedly the oldest such tree in the Pacific Northwest and the “matriarch” of Washington ‘s apple industry. Park ranger Brett Roth told a group of Boy Scout volunteers the basic tale: a Briton attended a party in London in early 1820s, ate a delicious apple there, pocketed the seeds and forgot all about them — until he arrived in America about a year later, discovered the seeds in his pocket and planted them. (The romanticized version has a lady at the party giving the seeds to the traveler — a blessing from home for someone headed for the unknown.)
Continue past the Old Apple Tree onto the bridge itself, and you can’t miss native plantings, words and expressions in indigenous local languages, artworks by noted Native American artist Lillian Pitt and historic images and photographs of the area, from the fort itself to the Kaiser shipyards of World War Two.
“It’s an overpass but it’s also a work of art,” said volunteer and retired park ranger Pat Barry, a Vancouver resident who staffed the Bonneville Dam visitor center for decades. Barry was shoveling mulch with his 11-year-old son, Will. “We always like to do something useful on Earth Day,” Barry said.
Mulching, weeding and collecting litter are useful, Yilk said, but that’s not all the bridge needs. It’s a frequent target of graffiti, and Yilk is interested in putting together smaller groups of skilled volunteers who can paint over that this summer; it’s also in need of some longer-term surface repairs.
That’s because the bridge’s surface material is softer than standard asphalt, according to Fogarty. It’s made of something called decomposed granite — the same stuff that’s used for wheelchair-accessible pathways at all national parks, he said. Decomposed granite is handier to work with and more aesthetically pleasing than asphalt, but it also weathers more quickly.
July road trip
Major Confluence fans can really dig into the project and its historic sites this summer during a private three-day tour July 13 to 15. The Confluence Lower Columbia Road Trip will visit the Sandy River Delta in Troutdale,Ore., the Vanoucver Land Bridge, Chinook Nation headquarters and village in Bay Center and Cape Disappointment, on the mouth of the Columbia River; a busy lineup of guest speakers, walking tours, cultural outings — such as Chinook song, dance and a salmon bake — will be part of the experience. Lillian Pitt, who created art for the brige, and Doug Wilson, a ranger and archaeologist at Fort Vancouver, will be among the speakers during the Land Bridge visit here in Vancouver.
The base price for the road trip is $325. To learn more, contact Yilk at Courtney@ConfluenceProject.org or visit www.confluenceproject.org/news/confluence-on-the-columbia.