Our bridge to nowhere 

A pedestrian bridge removed from Greenough Park during spring runoff currently spans nothing but dirt, a rusting relic among the cottonwoods surrounding the park’s picnic shelter.

When it was removed, Missoula Parks and Rec said the 20-foot span would be reinstalled once high flows receded, but a city-wide budget crunch has left the bridge “not scheduled for replacement,” says Parks and Rec’s Morgan Valliant.

“The total cost of replacing the bridge and meeting all requirements to ensure that the next flood event doesn’t wipe it out is around $18,000,” he says, adding that it’s money the department doesn’t have.

In May, a flood forecast compelled the city to remove two of the park’s four bridges at a cost of more than $3,000. Workers hoisted the upper bridge to dry ground while the swollen stream ate away at its moorings, wiping out one and significantly damaging the other. While the lower bridge has been replaced, the upper one has not. Only the damaged bases—river cobbles stacked in wire baskets—remain in place today.

For years, the bridge provided access to the sole non-motorized route for cyclists and pedestrians on the creek’s east side, linking the Rattlesnake trail system to a path on a secluded island that winds through old-growth cottonwoods and ponderosa pines.

When high flows subsided, people MacGyver-ed a makeshift crossing of logs and river rocks to access the head of the island that remains today.

The city prefers a more permanent structure, one designed to withstand annual runoffs while protecting the creek’s native westslope cutthroat and bull trout populations.

“The bridge was a good addition to the trail infrastructure in the park,” says Valliant. “[Its removal] obviously affects people’s recreation there, and we’d like to get it in.”

But that’s unlikely, he says, as the department struggles to maintain their current level of service with fewer people and less money.

“It’s costly to remove bridges every time we have high waters,” he says. “But we definitely don’t want to see it get washed down river.”
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