Cascadia bridge anniversary fete honors Sen. Mae Yih

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Cascadia residents honored retired state Sen. Mae Yih Saturday afternoon, June 29, at Cascadia State Park as they celebrated the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Cascadia State Park bridge, which ensured two access points across the South Santiam River.

The state government closed the old bridge in 1991 when state officials deemed it unsafe. That meant all of the traffic to the state park traveled Cascadia Drive, a gravel road – and if a tree fell, it could block access to Short Bridge and Highway 20.

Cascadia residents came together and sought Yih’s help to replace the bridge.

“The winter before last, on a rainy day, I don’t know why it popped into my head, but thought it would be a nice thing to get the bridge named after Yih,” said Janet Quinn of Cascadia. She contacted Cascadia resident Jean Burger, a community leader, who started making the phone calls.

That idea was shot down, Quinn said. Turns out, “you can’t name a bridge after somebody. They have to be dead.”

They decide to go a different route. It took the form of a wrapped gift.

Yih unwrapped it Saturday, revealing a monument created from a boulder from Shot Pouch, the same rock used to build Green Peter and Foster dams. On it is a plaque, commemorating her efforts on behalf of Cascadians, and this inscription: “To Oregon Senator, D-Retired, Mae Yih, whose tireless efforts resulted in the building of this bridge dedicated June 24, 1994. In grateful appreciation from the community of Cascadia, Oregon, June 29, 2019.”

Burger said Rep. Sherrie Sprenger helped clear the way to allow the placement of the monument at the park.

“This is a joyous occasion, and we’re extremely happy to have our senator with us,” Burger said. She recalled on Oct. 29, 1991 seeing a notice posted at the Cascadia Post Office of a meeting that night the state was going to hold at the maintenance shed.

There, Cascadia residents learned the bridge to the park, built in 1928, would be closed because it was unsafe, Burger said. One week later, the bridge was closed, adversely affecting the residents, who would deal with large amounts of traffic on their dusty road and limit their access to the highway.

Jim Gourley recalled growing up in the area attending Cascadia School. From there, the children constantly went on field trips to the park, exploring every part of it, “a lot of memories here. A lot of history here.”

“The community was totally outraged,” said Burger of the bridge closure. “We started this wonderful grassroots (effort) to keep this travesty from happening.

“If a tree went down early on, emergency vehicles couldn’t get in here. We needed a solution fast.”

Cascadians began writing letters and petitioning state officials, Burger said. “We were heard on deaf ears from Salem until I called the wonderful Sen. Mae Yih.”

Yih proved irreplaceable, Burger said. She went to work with a committee that included Burger, Postmaster Cindy Brown, Bob and Joyce Pinster, Ervil and Dallis Morris, Gourley, Iris Bruckbauer and Sue Neuschwander, who wrote for The New Era.

Yih assembled a room full of the state’s top brass in parks and transportation, Burger recalled.

“Mae was calling them to the party, and she wanted something fixed. Mae wanted a solution. She didn’t want to hear there’s no funding.”

Ron Polvi, a state parks official, “began to eat, live and sleep Cascadia State Park,” Burger said. “He wanted to save our bridge as much as we wanted to save our bridge.”

During a public hearing at Linn-Benton Community College, someone suggested a Bailey bridge, which the Allies used to win World War II, as a temporary solution, Burger said. It was “like a Rambo Erector set.”

Using large rollers to push sections into place, the bridge structure uses steel plating connected with tie rods and pins to create a surface area.

In June 1992, members of the 409th Engineering Company of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers arrived at the park in two Chinook helicopters and began constructing the Bailey bridge.

The bridge served the park temporarily during the construction of the current permanent bridge.

“(Yih) restored our faith in the government and the way things can happen if it comes from the grass roots,” Burger said.

“I am thrilled to see my old friends of the Cascadia Community,” said Yih, 91, who retired in 2003.

Although it seems like yesterday, it was nearly 28 years ago when I met with 46 of you on a cold November day to hear concern the community had with the closure of the bridge.”

Yih received numerous accolades from the Cascadia community. She said she has been called a “little package of dynamite,” but she disagrees.

“Actually, it was all of you who were the dynamite,” Yih told the gathered crowd of 50 Saturday. “You stood up for what you believed in. You are a shining example of how citizens and government can work together to find solutions.”

She said she has a deep appreciation for the trust of the Cascadia community and the years for friendship and proudly displayed a t-shirt she received from Burger about a quarter century ago. On it are the words “Cascadia, Oregon, where life is worth living.”

“What a great deal,” Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist told the Cascadia residents, referring to Yih. “You found the right (package) of dynamite to be on the case for sure.”

While he was not a county commissioner during Yih’s tenure, he noted the senator’s commitment to responsible spending and ability to “stop the madness” in the state Capitol without having to leave the state.

“Senator, your service is unique, once-in-a-lifetime,” Nyquist said. “This is just one of a hundred stories all over Linn County that people tell about Sen. Yih.”

Also attending the celebration were commissioners Will Tucker and John Lindsey and County Parks Director Brian Carrol.

Tom Spears, who was park ranger at the time, also attended.

When she became a senator, said Yih’s son, Don Yih, she worked hard to solve problems for her constituents, the same way she did supporting her family.

The bridge is a symbol of that, he said. While not many people will know the story of the bridge, “we will – It’s a story of representative government as it was meant to be.”