Popular Natural Bridge Stolen from Ross Creek Cedars

Forest Service seeking ways to stop reoccurring vandalism at ancient cedars site

By Dillon Tabish

A natural bridge made of intertwining roots from ancient cedars near Troy was stolen sometime in late fall, destroying a beloved piece of public property and devastating the community of residents who cherish the popular site.

According to U.S. Forest Service officials, someone using a chainsaw removed the well-known bridge of roots that connects the walking path at the Ross Creek Cedars Scenic Area with an island near the creek. The bridge, a six-foot long pathway made of thick cedar roots, was completely chopped out. Forest officials believe the vandalism occurred some time after Halloween.

Dave Thorstenson, recreation manager for the Three Rivers Ranger District in the Kootenai National Forest, said the site is a common target of vandals but not to this degree.

“This is different,” he said. “This little bridge is really unique. The kids loved it.”

He added, “I’ve heard from a lot of local folks who grew up here and the cedars are pretty special to them. People have called in with dismay that this has taken place.”

The site, located south of Troy off Montana Highway 56, features a dense grove of western red cedars that are believed to be 500 to 1,000 years old. Most of the trees stretch almost 10 feet in diameter and reach over 200 feet into the sky. The scenic area features a walking path roughly 1-mile long that remains open year-round, attracting heavy crowds in the summer and cross-country skiers in the winter.

News of the vandalism spread quickly throughout Lincoln County.

“We all just feel robbed and violated. It’s a public park that is shared by all of us,” said Barb LePak, who lives down the road from the cedars and frequents the site often. “It’s irreplaceable. It was part of the magic of the cedars.”

She added, “This is more than vandalism. It’s outright theft.”

Residents and forest officials are trying to gather information about the incident, but both sides acknowledge the irrevocable damage is already done.

Faced with continued vandalism at the cedars and the recent incident, Thorstenson said the Forest Service is considering remedies such as regulating the hours that the site is open and charging a day-use fee that could help pay for upkeep and management.

“It’s nice for people to go up and explore the area at any time, but when you have things like this happen, if it keeps occurring you have to make a decision,” Thorstenson said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people who go there are fine. It’s just the 1 percent that blow it for everyone else.”

The site is also increasingly popular with visitors, causing heightened use of the limited facilities, such as the bathrooms.

Thorstenson said there are not any formal proposals being made yet. A donation jar has been set up at the entrance of the cedars path to help offset management costs. Last year it collected just over $300.

LePak said she understands the dilemma but hopes the Forest Service doesn’t limit access to Ross Creek Cedars.

“Everyone in this area, we all go there. It’s such a special place. We have to continue to be able to get in there,” she said. “I would really hate to see it closed off because of one or two people. That would be a shame. We have to take care of our special places. We all need to take care of it and respect it and revere it for what it is.”

Anyone with possible information about the recent vandalism should contact the Three Rivers Ranger District at 406-295-7480.

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