The footbridge everybody crosses to reach rock-climbing walls in Smith Rock State Park will be replaced this summer after 50 years of service. This is the bridge everyone uses to reach the park’s highlights: Misery Ridge, Monkey Face, Asterisk Pass and the Burma Road.
“It’s just nice to get out and walk. When the sun’s out during winter, I always think of Smith Rock State Park,” said Gary Weber of Bend. “It’s close and it’s got some great hiking out here. It’s a wonderful place. It’s really something to have this in our backyard.”
The bridge replacement is scheduled to happen in July and August. That’s after raptor nesting season and during the heat of summer when visitor numbers typically decline because it gets blazing hot in the park.
“When you drop into the canyon it can be 10-15 degrees hotter than up on the rim where you can have a bit of a breeze. When you get close to this rock, it’s very hot. Misery Ridge contributes to a lot of heat related emergencies. That’s a good time of year to avoid this trail,” said Matt Davey, Smith Rock State Park Manager. “Rock climbing in July and August actually takes a big nosedive in the park. It’s actually more popular in the spring and the fall when it’s cooler. By timing this in July and August, we actually see lower visitation numbers because of heat.”
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While timing of the bridge replacement makes sense, the simple fact is any kind of closure causes inconvenience.
We caught up with Joe Farkas from Parkdale, Oregon, as he crossed the soon to be closed footbridge.
“I just did the loop up Misery Ridge. It was beautiful. The sun was out for a while,” he said.
When the bridge closes, Farkas won’t be able to reach Misery Ridge, unless he were to hike in from Skull Hollow Campground or Grey Butte.
He mentioned the possibility of fording the Crooked River, but park officials are discouraging such efforts.
Sometimes a closure is a good thing. It forces people to get creative and explore new places.
“We still have a fantastic Rimrock Trail that doesn’t even involve going into the canyon. It has great views up and down the rim. We have the Homestead Trail and the Canyon Trail. Those are going to remain open. You can still make a 3-to-4-mile loop in the park without needing to cross the footbridge. There are still great options,” Davey said.
The Homestead Trail is accessible at the very north turnaround point of the rim overlook area. It drops down into the canyon and follows the south shore of the Crooked River back to the footbridge.
From there, hikers will bypass the construction area and can continue downstream on the Canyon Trail. It meanders downstream to a popular bouldering, top rope climbing area called Rope A Dope.
The Rope A Dope Trail climbs back up to the Rimrock Trail and takes you back to where you started.
“We are discouraging visitors during that time from going across. There’s plenty to see on this side of the park without going across the footbridge. We are discouraging it because wading causes erosion problems,” Davey said.
“If we have a lot of people rock climbing or hiking on Misery Ridge, if they get injured, that puts first responders in a challenging spot because they don’t have a bridge — as well as our park staff who have to service trails or the compost toilet on the other side. So we’re just not going to have that presence on the other side. We are really asking visitors to do their part and recreate on this side of somewhere else during this temporary closure,” said Davey.
“Definitely. it’s going to impact people who come here to access all the beautiful hiking scenery on the other side,” said Weber. “It will impact all the people who come here to enjoy the rock climbing which is really popular.”
The new bridge will be two feet wider and built of wood in the same style as the existing bridge. It will blend into the environment. It’s a safe bet most people won’t even notice the difference once the bridge is replaced.
“We actually came down The Homestead Trail from the upper parking lot. It’s become a favorite. It’s not nearly as busy. We zig-zag, cross the bridge and come back up this side and see our two favorite pine trees,” Weber said.
Crews will begin work in July and continue through September if needed, but the biggest impact to visitors will be the four-week bridge closure.
The goal is to complete as much of the bridge construction as possible between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15.
“We do love to frequent the park,” said Mark, who was carrying his infant daughter Margo in a backpack. “I do climb here occasionally. I’m not sure how we are going to handle that. Maybe there’s a work around or another way to reach the other side which is a desirable place to be. I’m not sure what we’ll do with that.”
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department will update information on the footbridge closure dates and times on the Smith Rock webpage and through smithrock.com/