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Multnomah Fall's bridge is expected to be open in time for Memorial Day

Benson Bridge closed for repairs after rock fall


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: U.S. FOREST SERVICE - Early morning Jan. 9, a boulder fell through the Benson Bridge, damaging its deck and part of the handrail.Repairs on Benson Bridge, the iconic bridge that arches over Multnomah Falls, are expected to be complete by Memorial Day weekend.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The iconic footbridge over the waterfall at Multnomah Falls is being repaired, but scheduled to for completion by Memorial Day.The 99-year-old footbridge and part of its hand railing were damaged when a large rock fell from overhanging cliffs Jan. 9.

Benson Bridge and the popular Wahkeena-to-Multnomah Falls hiking loop and the hike to the top of the falls have been closed to pedestrians since the rock fell and pierced the bridge. Visitors can still hike up to view the falls near Benson Bridge on Larch Mountain trail No. 441, but are not allowed to cross it.

All other trails remain open.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and the U.S. Forest Service awarded a contract earlier this April to a company from Battle Ground, Wash., Catworks Construction, to begin repairs.

“We expect them to move in April 21 to begin construction,” said Stan Hinatsu, recreation program manager at the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

He said it will take a few days for workers to put up scaffolding and haul in equipment to the 45-foot-long bridge, which is perched 105 feet above the fall’s lower cascade.

Located east of Troutdale along the Historic Columbia River Highway, Multnomah Falls is considered the tallest waterfall in Oregon with its two tiers combining for a total of 620 feet.

Crews will work to mend the hole and fix the rail, but also complete other needed maintenance, like cleaning the bridge and applying a new seal coat to its surface that will protect it from harsh and wet weather for years to come.

Hinatsu said it has been a continuous struggle trying to keep people informed about the fact the bridge is closed.

There are signs and maps alerting people to use an alternative hike up to the falls, he said.

But some people flat out dismiss the fenced barriers authorities have placed on either side of the bridge.

They climb over and cross it anyway.

“We just have to continuously keep an eye on it,” Hinatsu said. “It’s a safety thing. We don’t want someone to get on the bridge and fall through the hole or missing handrail,” he said.

Gorge officials anticipate the trail and bridge will be open to the public for the summer season.

“Our hope is everything will be done by Memorial Day (May 26),” Hinatsu said.

The last major incident involving the Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls was on Labor Day in 1995.

A 400-ton boulder loosened by erosion fell 225 feet from the face of the waterfall into the upper cascade pool above Benson Bridge.

The falling rock caused a 70-foot splash of water and gravel to wash over the footbridge, causing minor injuries to 20 members of a wedding party, which happened to be on the bridge posing for photos at the time.

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