The Bend Park & Recreation District is moving closer to removing a trestle bridge with ties to Bend’s early history.

On Tuesday, the park district’s board of directors will discuss Hixon Bridge, a 32-foot-long covered bridge that spans Tumalo Creek near the center of Shevlin Park. Following a routine inspection two years ago, the park district determined that the century-old abutments that support the bridge were near the end of their useful life.

A handful of Bend residents have expressed concern about removing the distinctive bridge, which appeared in the 1993 Walt Disney movie “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.” However, Brian Hudspeth, development manager for the park district, said the failing base of the bridge and its redundancy within the park make it almost impossible to repair the bridge.

“Putting $1 million into a bridge that isn’t even historical is not a good use of taxpayer money,” Hudspeth said.

The bridge abutments were originally built at least 90 years ago for the Brooks-Scanlon railroad trestle, where it was in use until 1957. In the ensuing years, the families behind the Shevlin-Hixon Lumber Co. used the bridge to access private picnic areas before the land was converted to a park, according to The Bulletin’s archives.

In the early 1990s, the Walt Disney Co. built walls and a roof on the existing bridge so it could be used as a set during a short scene in “Homeward Bound,” the story of three pets trying to return home to their owners. The bridge still retains its walls and roof today.

In 2016, an inspection revealed that the abutments, which Hudspeth said are made from unreinforced concrete, were failing. Hudspeth added that repairing the bridge would likely be prohibitively expensive.

While the district may yet look at replacing the bridge with a smaller, uncovered pedestrian bridge, the district’s staff recommendation is to remove the bridge and restore Tumalo Creek to a more natural state. Hudspeth said a second bridge, the Larch Grove Bridge, is just 500 feet downstream, and connects to the same network of trails.

“The bridges are redundant; we don’t need them both,” Hudspeth said.

However, the bridge’s distinctive appearance and connection to Central Oregon’s history has prompted calls to save it. Other residents, like Chip LaFurney, are concerned about the access the bridge provides. LaFurney, who hikes through Shevlin Park and the surrounding area at least once a week, said he understands that the bridge is deteriorating, but noted that the current setup of the park would force hikers who cross Larch Grove Bridge to walk along a service road to access other trails.

“The suggestion that that bridge is extraneous doesn’t seem right to me,” LaFurney said.

He added that building a new pedestrian bridge across Tumalo Creek could prompt lawsuits, which could make the project more expensive and time-consuming. The district estimates that a new bridge could cost between $110,000 and $500,000, depending on the type of bridge and the materials used. If the board determines it wants to keep a bridge there, the district could look at allocating property tax revenue in the future, according to materials from the park district.

Hudspeth said the park district is looking at adding a stretch of soft-surface trail that runs perpendicular to the service road, which would maintain a more natural experience without adding a second bridge.

The park district has budgeted around $300,000 to the improvement project, which also includes creating new accessible parking spaces by Aspen Hall and building an accessible trail from the main parking lot to Aspen Meadow and Tumalo Creek. A state grant of around $146,000 will cover about half of the project costs, according to materials from the park district.

The terms of the state grant require the project to be completed by October 2019. A separate project that will add signs to the park is currently underway.

—Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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