The Kaslo Trailblazers hosted a ribbon-cutting for their Unity Bridge

The Kaslo Trailblazers hosted a ribbon-cutting for their Unity Bridge

Volunteer-built bridge unites Kaslo

The Kaslo Trailblazers Society has completed their eight-year project to construct the Unity Bridge.

The brand new Unity Bridge in Kaslo is a 130-foot, 50-tonne community project that cost $201,000 and took eight years to finance.

Officially dedicated on Sunday, it will connect the north and south sides of the Kaslo River Trail, opening up new options for hikers — they can now choose between a 3.7 or 10 km loop.

“The name Unity stands for the fact that it unifies the trails, unifies the north and south sides of Kaslo, and it shows what a small group of volunteers can do when they have support from people all over the world,” said society president Val Koenig.

The society was able to raise all but $15,000 of the bridge’s cost through international plaque sales. Over 70 volunteers assisted with the project, and Koenig estimates about 35 per cent of Kaslo’s adult population belongs to the society.

The timbers used for the bridge were sourced locally from Hamill Creek Timber Homes. Local contractors and companies provided free labour and support.

“This bridge is 100 per cent built by volunteers with no paid labour,” said Koenig proudly. “Gwil Cranes of Castlegar came out with a 200-tonne crane and 141,000 pounds of counterweight to put it in.”

The society received financial contributions from people in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. The bridge was designed by Kaslo baker Silvio Lettrari.

“He designed our first bridge [installed in 2007] and we liked it so much we had him do the second one the same,” Koenig said.

One enhancement of the Unity Bridge is that it’s entirely wheelchair-accessible, dropping from a four to a two-foot (1.2 to 0.6 m) arch.

Koenig said Pennco Engineering was there to make sure they did everything “properly and safely.”

And though they did receive funding from Columbia Basin Trust, 90 per cent of the funds were either sourced locally or came through bridge plaque sales.

Koenig said the society will now focus on the trail-building aspect of their mandate. They plan to extend trails out towards South Fork, and ultimately cross the highway to connect to the Kaslo-Sandon wagon road.

Koenig said he’s thrilled to reach the end of the eight-year process. “It feels fantastic.”