The Vernita Bridge, which connects Benton and Grant County, is ten miles south of Mattawa on SR 24.  Now, the popular recreation area is facing some big changes.

   Restrictions coming to the Vernita area

Opened in 1956, the Vernita Bridge was one of a number of toll bridges in the state but was the only toll bridge in southeastern WA history.  People would pay a toll as they drove across, it was paid off in 1977.

The area has been very popular with fishermen and recreators. A rest area on the south side of the bridge was built, and a lot of camping takes place. The stretch of river from the bridge to the Tri-Cities is the last free-flowing portion of the Columbia in WA.

Now, the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife are proposing significant restrictions and rule changes. According to DFW:

"Vernita is a popular option for accessing the Columbia River, particularly during the fall Chinook recreational fishery. While the site is designated day-use only, dozens of people camp at the site during the fishing season; many for weeks at a time. The level of use has not only become unsustainable but is causing damage to the natural landscape. "

Some of the rule changes proposed are:

"The long-term objective is to find an alternative camping site, but in the meantime WDFW developed an interim management plan. Limited camping will continue at Vernita for the 2024 and 2025 fall salmon seasons, but it will look different than in the past: 

  • Camping and day use users will have designated areas.  
  • Camping will be limited to 14 days per user in a 30 day period. 
  • When fall salmon seasons are not underway, camping is prohibited and vehicle access limited to a smaller day use area. 

The area will be patrolled by WDFW Enforcement officers for compliance with the new requirements.  

All overnight use of the Vernita Water Access Area will be phased out in 2026, with WDFW working to find an alternative camping site"

DFW says public input will soon be gathered. To see what other changes are proposed for the area, click here. 

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Gallery Credit: Sarah Jones

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