It was a simple mat of expanded metal, with welded steel tubing underneath, simple as can be. It quite resembled a ramp on the back of most lawn service trailers. Yet… It allowed many people to enjoy a truly beautiful island flood plain, with giant, fast growing cottonwoods and a carpet of wild mustard, blooming beautifully yellow, much of the year. 

ThIs simple little thing did its job well for many years, although being a little on the narrow side, the bridge scared ‘small children and the faint of heart’, not that anyone was willing to admit that. 

Some years back, I personally came down with the disease, ALS, which slowly paralyzes a person. I traded in my race worthy bike, for an e-bike, and then, when I could no longer walk, an electric three-wheeled trike. While I still had enough strength in my hands to steer, brake and work the throttle, I had lost most everything  else, and therefore, had to be tied into the contraption with many velcro straps and bungee cords.

Bangert Island was a wonderful place for this, except for one wee bit of a problem. The bridge was just slightly narrower than the front two wheels of my bike. At first a fellow riding dude would stand in the ditch and hold up one wheel, which was a bit precarious. 

First time with trike

At one point, my wife, Mary, felt that the carpet of blooming yellow mustard was just too much for her husband not to witness. So we devised a plan that involved hopscotching strips of plywood along, while making sure to stand on the plywood herself.  It worked. It was beautiful! On our second visit, I messed up as to which piece of wood should go on top of which, causing me to check out what it’s like to be upside-down in the mud. Being a very well used bridge, a good Samaritan quickly appeared, and the two of them made my world right again. Side up, that is. We did decide to put that method to rest, understandably. 

My wonderful and brave wife, Mary Piper
The fruits of our labor… And the wild place that development is supposed to improve.

Some weeks later, my lovely wife came back from Bangert Island glowing with how beautiful it was, and offered to take me. Of course there was still the problem of how. She confidently said, “ Don’t worry, I’ll just tip you up on two wheels, it’ll be fine.”  Now I’m usually the ‘hold my beer,’ and she’s usually ‘the voice of reason’.  Picturing Kate Winslet, in “ Titanic”, I suggest that we practice in the driveway first, where I can hold onto the bumper of the van. Mary again insists that it’s easy, stop worrying.

As I rolled down from the Katy Trail, with some trepidation, I noticed that it generally looked the same, but magically had gotten a little wider. The bridge had been replaced! I was a little confused. Then Mary said, “A lot of people love you David.” Though not admitting anything, this was as good a cry worthy moment as any. 

Mary and I enjoyed many more rides there, along with friends, and tons of people who we’ve never met, until I was no longer able to steer.

How do you improve on this? In public good… Of an urban wild space?

I’ve seen messages recently by proponents of the new Riverponte development suggesting that the area hasn’t been useful to people for long periods of time and was in some state of disrepair, with trails falling into the river. On this, I do not know what they are talking about. This wild space that dances with the mighty river, in a manner that used to be commonplace, but is no longer allowed in most places, is as beautiful as it ever was, while also being enjoyed by people on foot and by bike, with the help of more paths and trails than it ever has had.

Progress happens, development happens. I’m not naive. Of course wild places, within walking distance of a community, are undervalued by the developers, whose job it is to clear out, build and sell; it’s their job. Other than survey activities, most involved have probably never even been here. It’s disappointing, however, that wild places within walking distance of much of the community also seem to be undervalued by the local government officials who make the decisions on such matters. They are the ones who are in charge of weighing and balancing the competing interests of locals’ ability to hike in wild places, versus high dollar developments…  for the good of the community. Charged with this capacity, they felt it their duty to hold an emergency meeting, quickly held on Valentine’s Day evening, to “protect the developer from possible economic hardship”.

The little, improved, Bangert Island bridge is already gone. Fences are going up.They say that the place is going to be “restored”, with the aid of bulldozers. They present new wetlands as a prize that is wholesome, yet are vague about how much access people will have to it. They round out their wholesomeness by saying that they should really hurry now, to save the bats. Now I’ll just have to take their word on that one, because I am no expert on bats.

Enjoying the new bridge
I’ll get there. Don’t you worry
Getting an early start!
And… Accessible urban wild spaces do actually generate local cash flow.