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Replacement bridge to arrive in wilderness via helicopter

Sep 12, 2017 From wire reports

JACKSON (AP) -- The U.S. Forest Service has approved a plan to install a 172-foot-long steel bridge to span the Yellowstone River in a northwest Wyoming wilderness area.

The new bridge in the Teton Wilderness in the Bridger-Teton National Forest would replace another known locally as the Hawks Rest bridge, which is 57 years old and considered unsafe.

"We have a bridge out there that could fail at any time," Blackrock District Ranger Todd Stiles said. "That's what I've been told by my experts. At some point you've got to pull the trigger to fix the thing, or you've got to condemn it."

But critics say the new bridge will degrade the character of the Teton Wilderness.

"I wish the Forest Service would use some imagination and creativity and listened to constructive suggestions that are made," conservationist Phil Hocker said.

"That hasn't happened. They could get a bridge that would make the Hawks Rest bridge more appropriate in that astonishing, amazing, none-other-like-it setting."

The Hawks Rest bridge predates the 1964 Wilderness Act by four years and is considered a critical link across a wide and often deep river that is along the most-used trail in the Teton Wilderness.

A number of people who commented on the proposal asked for a packable bridge that could be transported by mules to avoid having to use a helicopter in designated wilderness. Others suggested forgoing a bridge, arguing it was a human feature incongruent with its protected surroundings.

Stiles stood behind the single-span feature, which will not require abutments that protrude out of the bed of the Yellowstone River.

Packable bridges the Bridger-Teton researched would have required at least two in-river abutments. Some designs, like suspension bridges, would have required bringing in a drill to do soil tests and skilled maintenance for proper upkeep, he said.

"We think very strongly that our decision to produce a single-span-style bridge best protects the natural character," Stiles said.

Stiles said he hopes the bridge can be installed late next year.

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2017-09-22