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Hamber park cut off by JNP bridge collapse

R. Hanske Photo

R. Hanske photo

Hikers lost their only way into British Columbia’s Hamber Provincial Park earlier this month, with the collapse of the suspension bridge crossing the Athabasca River.

The bridge is located in Jasper National Park and is the only overland access into the remote wilderness park, with Fortress Lake Trail taking hikers and skiers from Sunwapta Falls all the way to the popular fishing spot in British Columbia.

Without the suspension bridge, the only access to Fortress Lake and to the park as a whole is by plane.

“For Hamber [the bridge] is a lifeline for the park,” said Rogier Gruys, a product development specialist for Jasper National Park. “That’s what’s kind of tricky. For us, it’s close to the edge of the park and beyond that bridge the trail is not really that well maintained. There are no campgrounds beyond there, no other facilities, other than this trail that leads to Hamber.”

Gruys said a decision hasn’t yet been made as to how to proceed, but JNP is working with representatives from the provincial park to come up with a solution.

“Lucky enough we have the winter to discuss with them what all the options are,” he said.

Because there are no campgrounds or facilities beyond the bridge, Gruys said JNP doesn’t have concrete numbers for how many hikers, bikers and skiers actually use it throughout the year.

But, he said, the trail leading up to it is well used, especially with bikers and families.

“The first part of the trail is very popular and getting more popular.

“There is a campground called Big Bend, which is only about seven kilometres in, and the reason it’s popular is it’s an early season trail. You can go there in May when the alpine is still cold and snowy.

“It’s actually one of the only trails that loses a bit of elevation from the start. You don’t have to go up a hill, you actually go down a hill to get to the first campground, and you can bike all the way.”

There is also another campground further along the trail, at about 14 kilometres, called Athabasca Crossing. That campground is located a short distance from the suspension bridge.

With the bridge out, that’s where the trail ends, and it is not recommended that trail users attempt to forge the river.

“It’s one of these places where the river is extremely deep and fast, so we don’t recommend people to forge. It would be very dangerous, even at this time of the year.”

The suspension bridge was built in 1985 and has been inspected every five years since then. The last time it was inspected was in 2009 and it was in perfect working order.

“It lasted for nearly 30 years, so we’re surprised that it suddenly went out,” said Gruys.

Nicole Veerman

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