Home Critical engine Busiest: Bitterroot Forest Replaces Popular Lake Como Footbridge | Local News

Busiest: Bitterroot Forest Replaces Popular Lake Como Footbridge | Local News


On a recent bright sunny morning, the haunting murmur of Rock Creek was interrupted by the choppy blast of a helicopter carrying a heavy load.

For a few dangerous minutes, Huey’s rotor piloted by Andy Orr filled the narrow canyon at the western end of Lake Como as 30-foot spans of yellow cedar weighing nearly 3,000 pounds each were lowered with precision over the site of a new hinterland bridge.

On the ground, two men hired by NorTerra Service of Idaho helped guide the heavy timbers into place with guide ropes.

Within days, Orr delivered four spans used to create the bridge superstructure. He also hauled loads of other materials and hauled the old bridge to the boat launch parking lot across the lake.

Bitterroot Forest Facilities Engineer Shawn Boelman found the feat remarkable.

“When you consider that they were able to place the spans that were hanging down from a 150-foot-long line onto a one-foot-wide abutment while facing the high winds created by the rotor washing, I’m quite astonished. to see how well it went. “said Boelman.

“Anytime you are dealing with a helicopter that is carrying loads weighing more than a ton, anyone directly associated with the helicopter is considered to be performing a high-risk task,” he said. “The way he was able to lower those spans close enough that they could be placed exactly where they needed to be was very impressive.”

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Placing the spans right on target requires patience and experience.

“We were obviously working in a ravine with rocky cliffs to the south,” Orr said. “If something went wrong, like a gust of wind that rocked the load, it wasn’t conducive to a quick escape. When working with these external loads, our greatest concern is the health and safety of those in the field.

Orr said it took years to perfect his ability to fly a helicopter in situations like this. His company, AV8-ORR Helicopters, has just completed a new rig and helicopter on the south side of Hamilton.

“It’s not something you would put a rookie on,” he said. ” It needs patience. You can’t rush things. It may seem like it is happening quickly from the ground, but it feels a lot longer when you’re in the air. “

The Huey Orr was flying has been modified to include a large plexiglass bubble window on the door that is fitted with the critical engine instruments and gauges it needs to monitor the aircraft’s performance.

“You can lean into that bubble and look down to see the charge,” Orr said. “It wasn’t particularly difficult. Everything went very well.

“The conditions were right,” he said. “The entrepreneur who did the job was good at what he did. They built all the loads to fly well.

The leader of this small team, Tim Herrmann of Sandpoint, Idaho, has been doing similar work in the backcountry for almost 40 years, including the construction of the suspension bridge in the Bitterroot-Selway Wilderness in 1975.

“He definitely had the necessary experience for this project,” said Boelman. “When working in an off-road environment like this, you need the knowledge and experience to know how to move heavy timber with only human power. “

Construction of the new bridge is complete and people are already using it to access the full length of the Bitterroot National Forest’s Como Lake Loop National Recreational Trail, which is one of the most popular places to hike, cycling and horse riding.

The structure it replaces was built in 1974.

“This is one of our most popular trails in the forest,” said Mark Smith, Bitterroot Forest Recreation Specialist. “Without it, people wouldn’t be able to go around the lake. As he was over 45 and knowing that a typical deck superstructure doesn’t last longer than that, we decided to be proactive and replace him.

Planning for the project was over when another project in the region that had been approved suffered setbacks. Bitterroot Forest applied for and received $ 164,000 in Federal Land Transportation Program funding to pay for the replacement of the 64-foot-long bridge that offers spectacular views of Rock Creek as it flows into Lake Como.

The first bridge on the site was built in the 1930s. It was replaced by a second bridge constructed from native materials in 1953. The third bridge was the one that had just been replaced.

“The old bridge had a slight dog-leg,” said Boelman. “The new bridge straightens out that alignment.

While the superstructure was constructed from yellow cedar, which is known for its natural anti-rot properties, the running surface is a combination of Douglas fir and larch.

“This is the part that’s going to take a beating,” Boelman said. “We may have to replace this in 10 or 15 years, but the rest should be good for another half a century.”