Bridge that provides access to Sauk-Suiattle tribal lands reopens
Sarah Weiser / The Herald
Rob Iwamoto, forest supervisor for Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, speaks on Thursday morning at the opening of the new Boundary Bridge, outside of Darrington. The original Boundary Bridge was destroyed in 2003 by floods, and the opening of the new structure marks an important moment for the Sauk-Suiattle tribal members, as they will once again be able to access land on which their ancestors lived.
So the official opening Thursday of the new Boundary Bridge over the Suiattle River was an emotional, spiritual and joyous occasion for Mabee and other descendants of Billy Moses, who was the last chief of the tribe.
Billy Moses, Mabee’s great-grandfather, lived on the south side of the Suiattle, and that’s where Mabee grew up.
“Thank you to the highway department and the Forest Service for getting this done,” Mabee said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday. “Now I can visit my childhood home.”
The 1950s-era Boundary Bridge, a concrete structure that linked Forest Service roads 26 and 25 northeast of Darrington, was washed away in the flood of Oct. 21, 2003.
For seven years, Mabee, her uncle, elder Neil Moses of Tulalip, and their relatives had no way to get to the historical tribal land allotments in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
The loss of the bridge also blocked access to recreation in the National Forest, including the drive over Rat Trap Pass and the Circle Peak and Meadow Mountain trailheads.
The flood of 2003, which also washed away the White Chuck River Bridge and parts of the White Chuck, Mountain Loop and Suiattle roads, was followed in 2006 by another flood, which further damaged Boundary Bridge.
“We have so few of the old roads left, but each one we repair and maintain is valuable to the tribe and the public,” said Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes.
To mitigate restrictions by state and federal governments for building on the federally designated Wild and Scenic river, engineers came up with a plan to span the washed-out gap in the bridge without disturbing the south side of the river or putting more piers into the Suiattle River channel, Forbes said.
A 210-foot-long panel-truss bridge was pushed out over the top of the remaining old bridge. Instead of support features usually found below bridge decks, the supports are above on both sides of the bridge. That way flood debris won’t get caught on the bridge and damage the new structure, Forbes said.
Originally only 240 feet across, the bridge now spans 405 feet, because the river has carved wider banks.
The $1.1 million new bridge was paid for by a federal Highway Administration grant and emergency flood funding from the Forest Service.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by about 50 people, the tribe presented blankets to state and federal officials, as well as Darrington Mayor Joyce Jones.
Neil Moses offered a traditional blessing song, cleansing the path across the bridge with the scent of cedar boughs that he shook as he sang.
Then Moses got in a car and was driven over the bridge to take a look at the land where he hadn’t set foot for nearly a decade.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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