Bridging a gap while learning the ropes: 39CER install bridge at Texas Creek

Erin Perkins
By Erin Perkins
November 27th, 2012

The dilapidated wooden foot bridge that crossed Texas Creek, located on the boundary of Gladstone Provincial Park at the east end of Christina Lake, was anything but safe.

And after BC Parks staff inspected the bridge last year they “deemed it structurally unsound”, especially the wooden decking, and closed it off until it could be replaced, said Ryan Elphick, BC Parks area supervisor for the East Okanagan.

Although there was a sign, some local hikers admit they still crossed it “Indiana Jones” style as they used their favorite local trail system.

So, BC Parks purchased a new aluminum bridge this fall for $6,500, plus $700 for the concrete blocks and gravel, but they didn’t have the funding to put the new bridge in place.

 When Christina Lake resident and trail user Roland Krueger heard about the new bridge he saw this as an installation opportunity for the 39 Combat Engineer Regiment Squadron of Trail (39CER), of which he is an honorary lieutenant colonel.

So on Saturday, November 17 the group camped out at Texas Point and spent the weekend installing the bridge.

The 39CERs is a 25-member military reserve unit with members from Trail, Cranbrook and Christina Lake. As military engineers, they are the first ones into a battle and the last ones to leave, said Krueger of their role in the military. In times of war they build highways, roadways, bridges, remove boobie traps and remove obstacles for the infantry. When they leave, they are also the ones in charge of creating obstacles for the enemy like blowing up bridges.

“It’s weekend escapism,” said Krueger of why many people join the reserves.

It is very different from their regular life. And nowhere else do you get to do things like that (building bridges and blowing things up) … The special projects are when we get to build something and leave it there.

Over the past decade, the group has built five bridges in the Boundary area. Many of them were part of the Trans Canada Trail system.

The Texas Creek bridge posed a unique exercise for the group – they would put the bridge in place without the use of heavy duty mechanical equipment. Instead, they used tripods made of logs, pulleys, ropes and cables to hoist the concrete blocks in place and then they used their own collective strength to lift and move the bridge into place.

“We wanted to put the bridge across using no electricity or gas,” said Krueger. “We could have showed up with a couple of backhoes and had it in place in a half a day but we wanted to show how to move big loads using local materials and pulleys.”

“It was a great exercise,” said Krueger. “We were busy all the time … It’s one thing to learn about it, it’s a whole other thing to go out and actually do it.”

“BC Parks really enjoyed working with the 39CERS,” said Elphick.

It benefited both parties – it was a great opportunity for them to learn something and we saved money for installing the bridge.

The one major obstacle they had to overcome was when the tire blew on the government-owned bobcat they were using to clear some of the pathways into the bridge. They would have had to wait a few days for the part. Instead, Chris Mehmal of Kettle River Gravel in Grand Forks who delivered the gravel ordered by BC Parks, loaned them his brand new bobcat to finish the job.

The new welded aluminum bridge is not only sturdier and longer-lasting than the old wood bridge, but the access area leading up to it has been smoothed out too, said Krueger.

The 39CER meet once a week in Trail and also participate in training exercises one weekend of every month. The men and women range in age from 18 to 55. For more information about the reserves visit http://www.army.gc.ca/iaol/143000440001360/index-Eng.html