In a little less than a minute, a traveler could miss an opportunity to discover Oregon Coast Highway 101 heritage stories. That’s about how long it takes to cross the Alsea Bay Bridge and unknowingly zip past the Alsea Bay Bridge State Park Interpretive Center just south of the bridge off Highway 101 in Waldport.
I’m glad my husband and I noticed this Oregon State Park sign and decided to slow down to investigate the center. Our visit was very worthwhile.
We learned that bridge crossing has been possible across the bay for almost seventy-five years. A ceramic tile mural on the front wall of the Interpretive Center illustrates the beautiful lines that were incorporated into the engineering and architectural design of the original Alsea Bay Bridge which opened for traffic during the depression years in the 1930’s.
Inside,the interpretive center is home to interesting themed displays. One chronicles the need for travel to and around the Oregon Coast. An informative timeline explains modes of transportation, the development of routes for vehicular use, and travel time between locations from the past to the present. Distances that once took months to travel now take just hours!
Another describes the history of the Alsea Bay Bridges. I was most intrigued with information about Conde McCullough, the bridge engineer, who designed many of the stately coastal bridges that grace river and bay crossings along U.S. Route 101 in Oregon. One of them was the design of the original Alsea Bay Bridge, completed in 1936. That bridge remained in service until 1991 when it was demolished due to corrosion to its steel reinforcements by the harsh salty coastal environment, and deterioration of its wooden support piling footings because of marine worm damage.
Construction of the current bridge started in 1988 and was completed in 1991. Engineers selected methods in the design and building of the new bridge with the goal of preventing corrosion. The replacement bridge has a latex concrete deck and piers that are considerably thicker than normal. A video that demonstrates the installation of bridge sections and describes construction is fascinating to watch. I would strongly recommend taking a seat and watching the show. Spoiler Alert: the demolition of the Conde McCullough-designed bridge is both thrilling and sad to watch.
Displays inside the Interpretation Center provide photographs, historical story-lines, and artifacts to explain the construction processes. A large window provides a beautiful view of the Alsea Bay Bridge as a back-drop to the museum presentations.
Outside, the panorama of the bridge is stunning. I was delighted to discover remnants of Conde McCullough’s bridge incorporated into the new bridge design. Can you spot them? The difference in concrete technology was interesting to me. Both my grandfather and father were civil engineers that specialized in concrete technology. So these features of the bridges were particularly interesting and drew my attention. I imagined by grandfather in the 1930’s and my dad in the 1980’s supervising similar concrete pours only at dams instead of bridges…
Travelers who wish to remain at the Interpretive Center for a picnic or short walk will enjoy the easy access to the Alsea Bay beach that is part of this Oregon State Park facility.
Our trek to the beach was inspired by another visitor that day as we were lured to photograph a Harbor Seal who came in for a bit of a nap after raiding bait from a nearby fishing boat!
These photos were taken through a telephoto lens and later cropped to give a close-up view. As Oregon Master Naturalists, we knew not to disturb marine mammals found on the beach.
Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina)
Harbor seals are the most commonly observed pinniped (seal or sea lion) seen in Oregon. They haul-out (rest) at low tide on sand bars in most bays and estuaries along the Oregon coast. They are also found on nearshore rocks and islands usually within 3 miles of the coast. Harbor seals have a gray or black spotted coat. The males and females are approximately the same size: about 5 to 6 feet in length and between 200 and 300 pounds when full grown. In Oregon, pups are born in late March through April. Pups weigh about 10 pounds and they can swim at birth. Females are mature at around age 4 and give birth to one pup each year. Females leave their pups at haul-outs or along sandy beaches while searching for food. Pups are weaned (stop nursing) at about 4 weeks and then begin feeding on their own. Remember never pick up or handle a seal pup or any other marine mammal you find at the beach.
(Cut from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website: http://www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/mammals/species.asp)
If your plans include travel along U.S. Highway 101 in the vicinity of Waldport and the Alsea Bay Bridge, remember to slow down for a minute. Pull off for a visit to the Alsea Bay Bridge Interpretive Center. It’s an interesting little place. Then be on the lookout for more bridges designed by Conde McCullough.