A helicopter removes a piece of the long-defunct steel bridge removed from the Quinsam River last week.

Popular trail getting long overdue bridge replacement

Collapsed metal bridge that used to cross the river

This past January, Chris Barner and a friend of his were hiking the Quinsam Trail and came across, not for the first time, the collapsed metal bridge that used to cross the river, but had long ago been washed out by the very water it was meant to span.

“It’s been like that somewhere between five and 10 years, and getting worse all the time,” Barner said, as he watched the helicopter fly another chunk of the bridge into the drop zone at the Quinsam River Hatchery last week.

So they decided it was about time for something to be done about it. Phase one, they decided, was getting that old steel bridge out of the river.

“You can learn a ton about the salmon cycle here, it’s a sensitive ecosystem, and it’s a really popular trail, so we just felt it was an important project to get under way. Most of us (who are involved in the project) have been here a long time and watched the thing deteriorate, so we thought it would be a good idea to get in there and do something about it.”

The first thing to do was to get the old bridge out of the river and start the habitat mitigation work, Barner said, before they can start too think about installing a new bridge – which will be part of phase two.

“The community has really been coming together and donating time and expertise,” Barner said. Just the removal of the old bridge involved both bringing in a metal recycler to come chop the bridge into pieces and then the helicopter to haul it out of the habitat.

Without community involvement and volunteers recognizing the project’s value, Barner said, it likely wouldn’t be a financially feasible undertaking.

“The value of this project is really high,” he said. “Just hiring a chopper is going to cost you $1,500 an hour plus fuel,” so the job would cost “several thousands of dollars,” if not for the community support.

“I think we’ve spent about $50 so far, which is just amazing.”

One of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of projects like this can be the permits required to do this type of work, which is another area the community involvement has been of help.

“Permitting is often the biggest challenge,” Barner said. “I mean, building a bridge is no problem for a carpenter, and flying a helicopter is no problem for a helicopter pilot, but getting these permits is difficult for everybody.”

Thankfully, Barner said, they’ve had a lot of support from the forestry service, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, from the Quinsam River Hatchery, and have received timely permissions for the project so it could move forward.

“The ‘all of us is smarter than any of us’ approach has really served us well on this job,” Barner said. “One thing I’ve noticed about Campbell River is that when people need to come together to get something done, there’s always support from the community. People are always stepping up to the plate.”

Anyone who would like to get involved in phase two of the project – repairing the trails and getting the new river crossing built and installed – is welcome to contact the Haig Brown Institute by emailing info@haigbrowninstitute.org or Dave Brown at dogfishbay@gmail.com. They are particularly interested in hearing from people who have experience trail building and carpenters interested in donating time to to building the new bridge, but anyone who thinks they be of service is welcome.