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News / Life / Clark County Life

Clark County resists calls for major changes at Moulton Falls bridge

Pleas for fencing, other measures soared after viral video of girl being pushed off span

By Jeffrey Mize, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 13, 2019, 6:00am
4 Photos
Shannon Steeves of Vancouver, center, walks across the bridge at Moulton Falls Regional Park last week with her friends and their children. Clark County opted not to install fencing on the bridge after video of Jordan Holgerson of Kalama being pushed off went viral in August 2018.
Shannon Steeves of Vancouver, center, walks across the bridge at Moulton Falls Regional Park last week with her friends and their children. Clark County opted not to install fencing on the bridge after video of Jordan Holgerson of Kalama being pushed off went viral in August 2018. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

The phone calls and emails started flooding Clark County Parks shortly after video of a Kalama teenager being pushed off the bridge at Moulton Falls Regional Park went viral.

There was no shortage of ideas to prevent future incidents following the shove viewed around the world.

One person suggested posting armed guards. Others proposed installing surveillance cameras. Many urged adding fencing, and one went as far as to call for an electric fence.

“We had a lot of angry people,” said Bill Bjerke, Clark County’s former parks manager who retired last week after 33 years with the county. “I received calls from around the globe. I received calls from folks in Australia.”

“It’s a never-ending battle,” County Manager Shawn Henessee said. “Once this video went viral, we had a lot of people saying, ‘Why don’t you put up fencing?’ ”

Clark County installed additional “No jumping or diving” signs on both ends of the bridge in December and repainted existing signs in the middle of the bridge, but it resisted calls for fencing and more drastic measures.

The county received a $15,000 estimate for bridge fencing. But even a fence wouldn’t block someone from leaping more than 50 feet into the East Fork Lewis River. Fencing might make the spot more dangerous because a would-be jumper could fall while trying to bypass the barrier.

“People are going to find a way to climb over or around and have a higher perch to jump from,” Bjerke said.

Shaun Ford, chief at North Country EMS and Fire District 13, agreed that fencing is no panacea.

“I think they would get hung up on the top of the fence,” he said. “It would increase the chance of injury.”

People also routinely dive off rocks downstream from the Moulton Falls bridge. There are other jumping locations and rope swings in other parks, which county workers remove when they spot them.

All of which raises a basic question: If the county needs to fence Moulton Falls bridge, doesn’t it need to do the same at other popular diving spots?

“We can’t really fence off everything,” Henessee said.

Bjerke said he also heard from residents who don’t want a chain link fence marring the beauty of an iconic bridge. Wedding photos and graduation pictures have been taken at the park south of Yacolt, with the wood arch bridge providing a picturesque background, he said.

“To alter its beauty in any way would be a real shame,” he said.

Two injury calls a year

North Country EMS responds to about two injury calls a year after someone leaps from the Moulton Falls bridge, Ford said, adding that additional injuries could go unreported.

Last year, North Country EMS responded to three injuries, all within a two-week period, he said.

Cellphone video of Jordan Holgerson being shoved off the bridge on Aug. 7 received more than a million views and spawned worldwide media interest. Holgerson, who had thought about jumping but hesitated once she climbed over the bridge rail, belly-flopped into the river and suffered five broken ribs and two punctured lungs.

Last month, Tay’Lor Smith pleaded guilty to one charge of reckless endangerment for using both hands to push her former friend off the bridge. She was sentenced on March 27 to two days in jail and 38 days on a county work crew.

Three days after Holgerson was pushed, parks employees measured the bridge deck at 54 feet high, with the water 17 feet deep below the bridge.

“Jumping from 50 feet up,” Bjerke said, “if you don’t land right, you are going to get hurt.”

Bridge height and water depth will vary depending on flows in the East Fork Lewis River. Swift-flowing water during the winter can shift underwater boulders, creating summer diving hazards where none existed before.

“Anytime anybody gets hurt, it’s a terrible situation,” Henessee said. “That’s why we wanted to be sure everyone understands that it’s a really, really bad idea jumping off this bridge. Just don’t do it.”

Yet people continue to do precisely that. A YouTube video posted in January shows two people jumping in the middle of winter. One posed in front of a “No jumping or diving” sign before plunging into the East Fork Lewis River.

Complicating matters is there’s nothing in county code or state law that bans jumping from the bridge or other spots in county parks. A park user could face a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail for chasing a squirrel, but there is no potential penalty for voluntarily leaping from the Moulton Falls bridge, a reality that makes the signs toothless.

Henessee, who earned a law degree at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said amending county code could be difficult since it would have to include what constitutes a bridge or other area where jumping is prohibited.

“It becomes very problematic to define every particular situation,” he said.

Clark County could amend the code section for park rules to prohibit jumping or diving at locations posted with signs. Henessee said the county could consider that step, but enforcing such a provision would be challenging.

“I think it’s very rare that you are going to be in the situation where you can cite someone,” he said.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office already is stretched thin, particularly in rural areas. The sheriff will not have a deputy in the park every summer day writing citations.

Bjerke said the Moulton Falls park host has no ability to enforce county code, even if a jumping prohibition were added.

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“Nor does our staff,” he said. “The only enforcement is with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.”

Bridge built in the ’70s

Bjerke said the pedestrian bridge was built in the late 1970s as part of a trail network that connects Moulton Falls Regional Park with Lucia Falls Park.

Landon Currier, a Battle Ground resident, was walking his dog, Moxie, at Moulton Falls Regional Park last week. Although he considers the area a “sacred space,” he doesn’t believe a fence would ruin its ambience.

Currier said he has been in the park with friends who have leaped from the bridge.

“I really think people are going to go there no matter what limits they try to put up,” he said.

Instead, Currier advocates having a “set of eyes up there,” even if there is nothing that person can do to prevent jumping.

“I have never once seen a park host standing by the bridge,” he said.

Shannon Steeves of Vancouver also was in Moulton Falls park last week with her friends and their children. She has a simple opinion of people who leap from the bridge.

“I think they are crazy,” she said.

Steeves supports the county’s decision not to add fencing.

“I think the bridge is safe enough,” she said. “It’s a beautiful area. I wouldn’t want to mess with that view.”

With the weather starting to warm, more people will use Moulton Falls park.

“Summer season is coming,” Bjerke said. “As the parks department, we would like to tell people, ‘Please don’t jump off the bridge.’ ”

“Be responsible, be safe,” he added. “Let’s not screw around up there.”

Columbian staff reporter