Musings about the meaning of Salem's Minto-Brown bridge The bridge is a conceptual crossing, not just a physical one

Zu Zu encounters an EcoFest tortoise

After visiting the Straub Environmental Center's 2017 EcoFest in Riverfront Park last Saturday, where the family dog got close up and personal with a tortoise, ZuZu and I took a walk across the recently-opened pedestrian bridge that connects downtown Salem with the marvelous 1200 acre Minto-Brown Island Park.

Looking at the photos I took -- which turned out interestingly semi-blurred, due to an inadvertent altering of a camera dial -- I realized that the new Minto-Brown bridge (formal name is the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge) conjured up more meanings for me than I thought it would.

Sometimes (always?) a bridge is more than just a bridge.

Near the island end of the bridge, facing downtown

There's been quite a bit of talk about whether the cost of adding the curving arches was worth the extra taxpayer expense. Yes, it sure was. Beauty and a sense of WOW! should be built-in to every public works project. Salem has too many bland, stereotypical, mundane developments: road improvements, subdivisions, urban renewal efforts. The money that went for the soaring arches was well spent.

Beginning of the bridge, facing toward Minto-Brown island

The best part about the bridge is the lack of vehicles. Salem is hugely excessively autocentric, as are most American cities. We need many more places where people rule over cars and trucks. It drives me nuts when ignorant Salemians say stuff like "Hardly anybody is using the bike paths we have now, so why build more?" Because most people don't want to bike on a path that is just a painted white line on a busy road. Give them a real multi-use path, like this one, and they will use it. Big time.

Looking south toward the Willamette River slough

I live in rural south Salem on ten acres that is just a short walk from a community-owned lake. Nature surrounds me. I'm grateful for this. It keeps me as sane as I am. But everybody needs a healthy daily dose of naturalness. When I was just halfway across the bridge I looked to my left and realized how wonderful it is for city-dwellers to be able to have this view just a few hundred yards from downtown Salem. Priceless -- as is every bit of nature in the "built environment."

Looking north toward Riverfront Park and the Willamette River

The view north from the bridge was equally elevating. It made me realize how crazy it is that Salem is so disconnected from the Willamette River that runs through our town. Most people only come in touch with the river when they're zipping across it on one of our two vehicular bridges, or catching a glimpse from a busy parallel street. Everything looks better on foot, or on bike. Everything. It simply isn't possible to truly notice nature at 30, 40, or 50 miles per hour. The sooner City officials realize this, and make walking/cycling a priority over driving, the sooner Salem will become a much more livable town.

Kayakers about to go under the bridge

These kayakers were getting to know the river in a way most people are totally unfamiliar with. I look forward to kayak rentals being available at Riverfront Park, along with bike rentals. Such would be a big draw for locals and visitors alike. Anything that gets people out and about on their own power, transporting themselves without an engine, needs to be a Salem priority.

Walkers and cyclists near the Minto-Brown Island end of the bridge

There's no comparison between the pleasure people get from (1) being on a wide, safe multi-use path in a natural surrounding and (2) walking along a busy street or cycling on a scary painted bike path. The crazy thing is that City officials spend way more money on traditional traffic "improvements" (which are anything but) than on ways of getting around town that bring smiles to peoples' faces.

A Conservation Area sign alone the newly built path into Minto-Brown park.

"Welcome to the Conservation Area." Great sentiment. The sign should remind us that what needs to be conserved isn't only this particular natural space, but our entire freaking planet. Salem is the only major city in the Willamette Valley that doesn't have a Climate Action Plan aimed at keeping our one and only Earth habitable for humans. Soon the City Council will decide whether to make a Climate Action Plan one of the City of Salem's long-term goals. I sure hope this happens.

Downtown Salem looks pleasingly small just a short ways into Minto-Brown Park

One of the best things about the new Minto-Brown bridge and trail is how quickly Salem proper is lost in the distance. This is a reminder that nature is #1 and what we humans have built is #2. Meaning, without a healthy natural environment, there couldn't be any built environment. Yet too many people -- in Salem and elsewhere -- make the mistake of thinking that economic development can happen while trashing nature. She doesn't work that way. Fool with Mother Nature and you're screwing over yourself.

Looking at South Block Apartments from new park trail

Not surprisingly, downtown Salem looks way different from just a little ways away. The South Block Apartments are very noticeable from Riverfront Park. A short walk down the trail, and they fade away. Along with the rest of the cityscape.

Crossing the bridge back to Riverfront Park

Viewing the bridge arches from the other direction -- walking back toward downtown -- make me think again, "These were a great idea." A plain flat bridge would have been so boring. Like I said before, Salem needs more WOW! and less BLAH.

Pringle Creek from the Minto-Brown bridge

Looking at Pringle Creek reminded me how important it is to open up access to this urban treasure. Either the South Block Apartments developers and/or the City of Salem needs to get moving on the long-promised multi-use path along Pringle Creek, which would connect with other paths leading to Bush Park and other points. Salem has a bad habit of making it easy to get to the ugliest parts of town, and difficult to view the most beautiful/pleasant parts.

Eco-Earth Globe from end of Minto-Brown bridge

Lastly, I really enjoyed the view of the Eco-Earth Globe from the end of the bridge as it descends into Riverfront Park. The bridge brings more attention to this conversion of a 26-foot diameter acid storage ball that dated from the Boise Cascade pulp and paper mill days. Completed in 2003, the Eco-Earth Globe is a reminder that community effort can transform industrial ugliness into uplifting art. I look forward to the remaining rubble on the old Boise Cascade property being converted into something equally positive.

Created By
Brian Hines

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