The Yaquina Bay Bridge that links Newport, Oregon with South Beach has been called The Green Lady for the green arch that rises 600 feet into the sky. One of five Oregon Coast bridges designed by Conde McCullough and erected between 1934 and 1936, the bridge bears the marks of 81 years of weather, waves, birds, cars, and people. Memories flood my mind, even though I have only been here 21 years, not even a third of the bridge’s lifetime: Marches to celebrate sobriety and to protest war, a parade of old cars and people in costumes celebrating the bridge’s 75th anniversary, flowers tied to the posts in memory of six-year-old London McCabe, whose mother threw him off the bridge to his death in 2014. Police reports document others who committed suicide by slipping over the side of the bridge.
Countless tourists have walked the bridge, stopping to take pictures of the bay to the east and the jetty leading into the ocean to the west, of the marina, the coast guard station, the fishing pier, sea lions, and fishing boats followed by flocks of gulls. Others walk or jog the bridge for exercise or simply to get to the other side.
I have been reading a book called Crossings, about the construction of the coastal bridges. Written by Judy Fleagle and Richard Knox Smith, it tells the story of McCullough’s designs and how hundreds of workers laboring through fog, sun, rain and wind made them real. Before the bridges, travelers on the Coast Highway were forced to take ferry boats across the bays and rivers in Newport, Waldport, Florence, Reedsport, and Coos Bay. It made for a mighty long trip, and if you missed the last ferry of the day, you had to stay the night. A friend of my father’s who lived here in those early days remembers taking blankets when he went to town, just in case he couldn’t get back to the other side of the bay before nightfall.
All but one of the five bridges are still in use. The Alsea Bay Bridge in Waldport was replaced by a new bridge in 1991, but the builders left some of the gothic pillars and other markers in place. Someday The Green Lady will go, too. Highway experts are already warning that, despite frequent maintenance, it’s getting too old and too narrow to accommodate modern traffic loads, especially as development increases in South Beach. A strong earthquake or tsunami might take it down. But today it stands as the symbol Newport uses as its logo and the one thing everybody wants to photograph.
I cross the 3,223-foot Yaquina Bay Bridge nearly every day by car, but I recently walked it for the first time. I’d always meant to but never got around to it. Getting new tires at Les Schwab, right at the northern end of the bridge, gave me a perfect excuse. It only took a half hour to cross the bridge and come back, feeling triumphant. Also tired. I never realized how much of the bridge was uphill.
The weather was sunny with a light breeze as I played tourist, noting the sights on and off the bridge that I can’t see from the seat of my car. No wonder the tourists gawk and creep along in their cars. Below, I saw a lone guy clamming at low tide, fishermen on the pier, a family on the beach, a gull cruising to a landing on the sand, and tsunami evacuation signs pointing to the hill southwest of the bridge. Inside the little “houses” under the obelisks near the center of the bridge, graffiti told stories the writers felt compelled to share.
Back in the ’30s, McCullough surely never dreamed there would be a “webcam” attached at the north end of the bridge to feed pictures to the Internet, that bike racers and marathon runners would include the bridge in their course, or that a steady stream of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and RVs would fill the air with exhaust fumes. But The Green Lady is still a beauty and worth the walk.
Text and photos copyright 2017 Sue Fagalde Lick