Connor White – Wilderness Ranger Intern
Appalachian State University
Big Creek Bridge
July 22 – July 26th
Bitterroot National Forest
“BACKCUT”... “FALLING” then several seconds of expectant silence before the huge thud of a larch hitting the forest floor shakes the drainage. Adam and Don had picked out the tree the night before, sizing it up to see if it would make a good stringer for the bridge being rebuilt over Big Creek. After rounds of measuring, remeasuring, and contemplation over coffee, it had been decided on, and now met its fate in the early morning chill the next day.
Don, Roger, and Pat have built this bridge twice before. Once in ‘79 as part of a Forest Service Construction Crew, and then again in ‘99. This time they decided to come back as volunteers, several of them retired, to see it rebuilt into its third iteration. Both bridges had been put into place by hand, carved carefully from local trees and hauled to the site through the use of sheer force of will and a bit of elbow grease. This time was a little different. Adam Washebek had come along and brought his rigging equipment, using a simple but effective system of pulleys to haul trees into the air and set them in place.
So you can imagine, that as an intern working their first season on a wilderness crew how humbling it was to be surrounded by so many generations of wilderness workers whose technical skills have been practiced since before I was born. I felt outclassed to say the least. But in one particularly poignant moment, Roger said something that has stuck with me through the last several days.
“You’re us from forty years ago.”
Could that really be true? I can scarcely imagine myself forty years from now, to be frank. But maybe one day I’ll make it there, and maybe I’ll be a part of the next bridge that gets constructed over Big Creek? And until then I hope we can keep our wild places wild, and continue to enjoy the rugged beauty that these mountains have to offer us.