History Corner: The First East Fork Bridge

The First East Fork Bridge

By Bill Longwell

(Note:  This article was originally printed in the 2003 Alpiner.)

When the East Issaquah Interchange opened this past August, it not only gave vehicles access to and from the Issaquah Highlands, it also provided hikers an unimpeded route to the north I-90 railroad grade, basically closed this past year.

This concrete route to the old Northern Pacific grade is indeed grand, but who remembers the original bridge access across Issaquah Creek to the north side of I-90?  This original structure, built by Issaquah Alps Club members, basically turned the northside railroad from a seldom-used walking path to a popular multiple use route to the east.

In April, 1989, I sent much of the spring vacation repairing an ancient Puget Power lineman’s bridge across High Point Creek.  At that time a well-traveled trail followed the Puget Power (now Puget Energy) powerline from Preston into the High Point area.  The High Point community was not keen about this repaired bridge because the trail threaded their neighborhood.  Their complaints to DNR scuttled the completion of this bridge, and I was out of work.  Towards the end of my vacation week, David Kappler called me to relay a message from the Issaquah High School cross country team.  Could the Issaquah Alps build a bridge across the east fork of Issaquah Creek, preferably next to the freeway, so the team could easily access the northside railroad path?

At that time the team was crossing Issaquah Creek via the I-90 bridge!  On the freeway!  Sometimes I used the same route or waded the creek.  One crossed the guard rail at the end of I’90’s Exit 18 into Issaquah, found a way over or through the I-90 fence and gate (about this time someone had cut a hole through the chain-link fence—eventually DOT unlocked this gate), walked under both freeway lanes, squeezed through another fence back onto the west-bound freeway lanes, walked with roaring traffic across the bridge, squeezed through another tight-fitting fence opening and dropped to a trail on the opposite side of Issaquah Creek that led up to the old grade.

Dave and I looked the potential bridge site over and decided to build.  So I was back to bridge-building.  I spent three days in mid-April carrying timbers for the bridge approaches.

The next week Dave and I climbed the hill above the grade (now denuded by the new interchange route) and cut down two trees we needed for stringers.  Now, how do we get the stringer down to the bridge site, 200 yards away?  We did begin hauling one stringer a ways toward the creek.  Hard work!  We needed help.

Several people volunteered:  Joe Toynbee, Bob Knutson, Dwight Riggs, Will Thompson and Marge Bates, the founders of early IATC trail work, all members of the “Weedwhackers.”

April 26, the bridge-building day arrived.  At seven that morning I drove up to the Exit 18 guard rail and began unloading the bridge parts.  I hurried because I worried that someone would stop to ask what I was doing.  Someone did—the Issaquah city engineer.

He began quizzing me about my intention, which obviously looked suspicious.  I hemmed and hawed and finally, after embarrassing moments, he said to me:  “You know I don’t think I want to know what you’re doing here.” And he drove off.

The other bridge-builders soon arrived.  My friend Phil Hall had given me a heavy-duty pulley and Bob Knutson brought another.  With some stout rope and six strong people, we pulled the stringers down to the creek.  Two of us waded the creek to attach them to both approaches.

It took us eight long hours but we finished the job.  The result:  a strong serviceable bridge, about three feet wide and twenty feet long, spanning the creek.  Hikers, runners and bikers used that bridge for at least ten years.  Soon after completion of that span I received a pleasant note from the Issaquah High cross country team, thanking me and IATC for the bridge.  The team no longer would run on the freeway.

Late that fall, during an especially excessive rainy period, with the East Fork flooding, Kappler called me to tell me of his worries.  He was going to check the bridge to see if it still stood.  He called back to inform me the raging water was passing under the bridge and it remained strong.

When you cross the East Fork on the new concrete trail, think kind thoughts about its rough-hewn predecessor and its old-time builders.


Hannah Wheeler