Q: “There is a remnant of an old bridge crossing the Russian River behind Badger Park in an area with no roads. What is its history?” — Locke Wilson, Healdsburg
A: Healdsburg resident Joe Brandt, 69, said the structure has been there since before his lifetime. There are openings underneath the concrete, allowing water to go through where the two sides used to be a gravel road to get across the river. All that remains is the centerpiece of a bridge for what used to be a haul road.
Basalt Rock Company, which was a division of Dillingham Heavy Construction, Inc. acquired by Syar Industries, would take their trucks across to mine gravel.
This helped them dig gravel bars on either side of the river, according to Brandt. “I would classify it as river maintenance to get rid of the gravel bars. It kept the channels open, so we wouldn’t have flooding that we’re having now,” Brandt said, adding that when the river chokes down with gravel the residents who live right across get the brunt end of it.
“We had water inside our picnic ground area this last year, that we’ve never had in my lifetime,” he said.
While there have been worse floods and more rain in previous years, Brandt said the river is getting more and more choked with gravel build up. “It became a huge concern of the people that were coming into this area, talking about the aquifer and different things going on with the river,” Brandt said.
There’s a considerable amount of gravel that washes down the river every year, which Brandt said ends up building up over time. “The river channels become shallower and shallower and choke down. One hundred years ago there didn’t use to be homes around it,” Brandt said.
Since people live on both sides of the river, when it’s able to meander and run the natural course, it can become a real threat and flood homes on either side. “There’s no real river management anymore because of all the environmental issues,” Brandt said.
In the last year the amount of gravel that built up in the river did a lot of damage to the surrounding properties; trees were knocked down, taking the embankment away and reaching into the beach area, according to Brandt.
Brandt said he thinks there were several bridges built with materials from the Russian River and the use of this haul road. “One was the Golden Gate Bridge, and I think the Bay Bridge also used materials from the Russian River to get it built,” said Brandt.
Brandt couldn’t pinpoint exact dates for when the bridge was constructed or went out of use, but he estimates at least 15-20 years ago was when it ceased operation.
The Tribune contacted representatives from the City of Healdsburg, Healdsburg Museum and Historical Society and Syar Industries for history on the bridge. Most had only limited information or were unable to respond before publication.
Passersby on the Badger Park trail said there were a few accidents and deaths on the structure over the past several years. They chose to remain anonymous but did mention the use of a haul road for gravel mining as well.
“If I knew there was any chance that there could be some river maintenance in the future, by the use of that structure,” Brandt said. “I hate to see it go away.”
Wilson has walked on the Badger Park trail since coming to Healdsburg in 1989, and recollected what he’s seen on and around the bridge. “The remaining piers collect trees and other brush during floods. It’s used as a camping spot for various adventurers; bits of graffiti come and go,” Wilson said.
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