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Elk Falls Suspension Bridge: Concept to Opening Day

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Learn the amazing story behind the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge.

The Elk Falls Provincial Park is one of Campbell River’s greatest attractions — both for tourists and locals. From the John Hart Lake to the canyon and waterfall itself, the park is a great location for getting away the day-to-day stress of modern life.

The Elk Falls Park was established at the end of 1940. It began as 2,558 acres but has grown slightly during that time to just over 2,650 acres. It runs from the John Hart Lake on the west to the town of Campbell River on the east.

But the focus of the park is Elk Falls itself and the suspension bridge, which is on the west side of the park.

Elk Falls
Elk Falls from above

The Idea for the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge

In 2009, the Rotary Club of Campbell River proposed the idea of adding a suspension bridge and associated viewing platform as a way to provide better viewing of Elk Falls.

It would take until 2015 for the bridge to be completed and it involved the work of many collaborators including BC Parks and BC Hydro as well as local businesses, community organizations, and government agencies.

The bridge itself took only 10 months to build. The rest of the time was spent organizing and securing funding.

Concept drawing of Elk Falls Suspension Bridge by Paolo Tancan
Concept Drawing of Elk Falls Suspension Bridge by Paolo Tancan under CC BY 2.0.

Elk Falls Suspension Bridge: Concept

The original idea for the bridge was to make the falls more accessible to the public. The concept is shown in the following drawing by volunteer artist Paolo Tancon.

It’s shocking that the final bridge and viewing platform is very close to what we see in this image.

The placement of the bridge was determined based on three criteria:

  1. A solid rock base for mounting the bridge
  2. Two sides of the bridge being roughly equal elevation
  3. A great view of the falls.
Toni on the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge 2022
Toni on the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge

Funding and Design for the Bridge

After years of preparation, the Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) provided a grant of $325,000 to the project. This was the last piece of funding for the $550,000 project. The Rotary Club itself provides $75,000 with BC Hydro adding $150,000.

By the time the bridge was completed, the Rotary Club had increased its funding to $124,500 and the federal government provided the final $86,650 for a total of $686,150 budget.

Construction could not start immediately, of course. For one thing, the design of the bridge was not yet completed. And it had to be coordinated with BC Parks.

Building the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge

Construction on the bridge started in the Fall of 2014.

The bridge is anchored on both sides by drilling 10 cm-wide holes 10 meters into the bedrock. But given the environmental sensitivity of the site and the laws related to it, large trucks and equipment could not be brought to the site. So the drill used was brought in as components and built at the site.

Similarly, the four support posts were delivered via helicopter as seen in the image on the right.

After the support posts were mounted, the team attached four cables across the gorge — two on each post. This ind of catenary style hanging bridge is one of the simplest and will be very familiar to fans of old Tarzan movies or select Scooby Doo episodes.

The following video features an awesome time-lapse sequence showing the installation of the bridge’s decking.

“Building Elk Falls Suspension Bridge” via Government of British Columbia YouTube Channel

Elk Falls Suspension Bridge: Opening Day

On May 9th, 2015, the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge opened to the public. Rotary Club of Campbell River hosted a special ceremony that also marked the 75th anniversary of the opening of the park itself.

In its first year, the bridge attracted almost a quart of a million visitors. According to BC Hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson, that number has stayed fairly stable. In 2023, he told the Campbell River Mirror, “About 200,000 people visit the suspension bridge each year.”

Elk Falls Suspension Bridge From the Far Side
Elk Falls Suspension Bridge From the Far Side

Visiting the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge

The Elk Falls Provincial Park is a great recreational resource with activities including camping and hiking. But for a day trip, the suspension bridge is a destination you can’t beat. Even the walk to it is gorgeous.

From Campbell river, go west on Gold River Hwy (BC-28). This is roughly 4 km (3 miles). Turn right on Brewster Lake Rd and then right again on Elk Falls Park Rd. Follow it to the Elk Falls parking lot.

The suspension bridge is roughly 800 meters (a half mile) from the parking lot. There are a number of stairs (down to the bridge and up back), so be prepared. They are not intense but you may want to rest along the way.

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