• Bridge-builders brave bears and bugs across the Bay
By Joseph Miller
Special to the Homer Tribune
In early August, the Kachemak Bay State Park Trail Crew finished construction on a new, 65-foot fiberglass-molded bridge over Humpy Creek. The bridge connects the trailhead to a network of popular trails that, for the past few years, have remained difficult for many hikers to reach.
“It’s our hope that this bridge will make the trail safer and will last for a long time,” said Kachemak Bay Park Ranger Roger MacCampbell. “This bridge will link the Humpy Creek Trailhead to nearby trails in that area of the park. It will make the beginning of these hikes a lot safer for hikers and cut out crossing a hazardous stream at the very beginning of the trail system.”
The Humpy Creek bridge will connect the trailhead and camping area to several trails, including Humpy Creek, Emerald Lake and Grewingk Glacier trails. All three trails are popular within Kachemak Bay State Park and draw a significant number of hikers to the park.
The bridge project had been in the planning stages for several years before construction actually began. The long, extensive process of ordering and receiving materials took several months.
“We’ve been planning this project for the last four years,” MacCampbell said. “The first bridge over Humpy Creek was built in the mid-’90s, but it collapsed into the creek about three years ago, and had to be removed. Log bridges like that first one we built only have a lifespan of about 15 years.”
The bridge was made by a recreational trail bridge company from Philadelphia, PA called E.T. Techtonics.
“We looked to these bridges because of the bigger spans,” said Kachemak Bay Park Specialist Eric Clarke. “When dealing with an area that is longer than 20 feet, we can’t use the trees in the area because they won’t be big enough. These bridges — like the one installed in Humpy Creek — are pre-engineered, so that already speaks to its longevity and durability. That bridge’s life span will almost definitely outlast my career in State Parks.”
By the time everything had arrived, it took more than two weeks to shuttle construction materials and supplies across Kachemak Bay to the proposed building site. The crew used a cavalry of ATVs to transport the unassembled bridge parts from the beaches near Humpy Creek to the proposed bridge site, which involved multiple trips back and forth from the beach to the site and several more trips back from Humpy Creek to Homer. There, the crew and State Park employees would load more supplies onto the two landing crafts and then shuttle materials back to be dropped off.
The original estimated construction time for the bridge was eight days. However, after parts and materials for the bridge were laid out and a detailed explanation of the proposed process of building the bridge was given to the volunteer crew, the project was completed within five days.
The bridge’s construction was made almost entirely possible with the use of a skyline, which facilitated the movement of bridge sections across the creek and onto a pre-constructed scaffolding that the trail crew had installed a week.
The crew spent most the first day on site, moving the bridge sections from the beach drop-off point to the construction site, clearing a 500-square-foot section of brush from the intended worksite and digging out 16 square feet of soil from either side of the bridge to install a cribbing foundation.
The crew was forewarned early that Humpy Creek was a notorious feeding ground for bears during the salmon runs that pass through the creek. Humpy Creek is a rearing habitat for Coho, Chinook and pink salmon. Each day, the crew would stand in the flowing waters of the creek and watch the various kinds salmon pass underneath the halfway constructed bridge. The fish weaved in between crew members in their hip-waders.
Mornings would come and evidence of curious bears would be found along the banks of the creek and throughout the construction site. Not a single bear, however, was seen for the entire build.
Last summer, the trail crew completed construction of another bridge on the China Poot Lake Trail, which was built using raw materials from the proposed bridge site. While the China Poot Lake bridge also took several days to complete, this year’s Humpy Creek Bridge took less time for preparation, such as ordering the bridge in separate parts and having the materials delivered to Homer. This efficiency is a testament to the changes Kachemak Bay State Park is trying to make in the trail system across the Bay.
“The bridge itself, after delivery costs, ended up costing between $62,000 and $64,000,” said MacCampbell. “Kachemak Bay State Park is trying to procure funding for about five more bridge projects within the coming years. We’re planning to put in similar bridges all over the park; especially on Upper Humpy Creek, Moose Valley, China Poot Lake, Halibut Creek and another near the tram over Grewingk Creek.”
As the summer winds down and trail crew volunteers begin leaving Homer to return to their homes, all said they will remember the Humpy Creek bridge project fondly.
“It was a really fun project,” said volunteer Kristo Hammond from Placerville, Calif. “I had never done something like this before and now I can say I have. It’s a great feeling to look at that bridge and know it’s going to be there for years after I‘ve left Alaska. Hopefully I‘ll come back someday and check on it.”
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