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Deception Pass Bridge’s 75th noted by old cars, CCC folks, fog

Automobiles built before 1935 streamed across Deception Pass Bridge in 2010, much as they did when the bridge opened in 1935.  - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Automobiles built before 1935 streamed across Deception Pass Bridge in 2010, much as they did when the bridge opened in 1935.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

Deception Pass Bridge shared the limelight during the 75th anniversary ceremony Saturday with a couple dozen pillars of the community that have stood even longer than the historic structure.

Aging men and women associated with the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Depression-era public works program for young men, filled several rows of chairs during Saturday’s unique ceremony celebrating the 75th birthday of the historic bridge.

Several elected officials thanked the CCC in speeches. Gov. Chris Gregoire even wrote a special proclamation for the occasion, honoring the members of Seattle’s Chapter 5 Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni group. She noted that the members had voted to disband this year because of advancing age.

“For decades, members of Seattle’s Chapter 5 Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni group have worked to keep alive the inspiring story of the CCC in Washington — raising funds and providing support to care for the structures at Deception Pass State Park,” the governor wrote.

Berniece Phelps, the 85-year-old Bellevue woman who was president of the club for years, was surrounded by CCC folks when she carefully cut a ribbon to ceremonially reopen the bridge. Her late husband, Allan Phelps, was in the CCC in Oregon. As president of chapter 5, she led the effort to raise nearly $20,000 for a CCC statue at Bowman Bay.

While the CCC boys didn’t construct the bridge itself, they did do the difficult work of building the bridge approaches, the parking lots and the walkways underneath the bridge. More importantly, the CCC played a vital role in the development of Deception Pass Park during the same period that the bridge was built.

Despite cool, foggy weather, more than a hundred people, including a half-dozen elected officials, attended the unique ceremony in the bridge parking lot. Deception Pass Park manager Jack Hartt was the emcee and announced that the Navy planes wouldn’t be able to fly over the bridge, as scheduled, because of the fog.

Island County Commissioner John Dean described the bridge as “an engineering feat, a mammoth work of art, and an Island County icon” during his brief remarks.

“To the 2 million tourists who visit here each year, it is an adventure: a death-defying walk between cliffs, 180 feet in the air over wild tidal rapids, log rafts, tugboats, sailboats, kayaks and million dollar yachts,” he said.

“To daily commuters, it is a refreshing break from the ordinary, timed, if you are lucky enough, to spectacular sunrises and sunsets that tempt your eyes off the road just long enough for a mental snapshot of classic Pacific Northwest beauty.”

Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik spoke about the history of the bridge and highlighted Oak Harbor resident Capt. George Morse’s early efforts to get a bridge built. Morse was one of the first proponents of the bridge and even obtained a $20,000 appropriation in the state Legislature to build it in 1908. Unfortunately, the money was spent elsewhere and Morse never got the chance to see the bridge built.

But the bridge, Slowik said, brought big changes to Whidbey Island.

“With the completion of Deception Pass Bridge, it launched a new era of growth and people for Oak Harbor,” he said. “The bridge facilitated North Whidbey development, fostered the eventual placement of the Naval Air Station Whidbey in Oak Harbor, and became the local image that visitors thrill to see.”

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen and Rep. Barbara Bailey also gave brief speeches about the importance of the bridge to the communities it connects. Afterward, the bridge was closed for just a few minutes as a line of 1935-era cars crossed the bridge, followed by the ribbon cutting. Then buses shuttled most of the crowd down to Cranberry Lake for a picnic.

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