‘A place of connection’: State Parks celebrates rehabbed Bridgeport Covered Bridge (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY) | TheUnion.com
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‘A place of connection’: State Parks celebrates rehabbed Bridgeport Covered Bridge (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY)

The first members of the public — student artists who helped the Save Our Bridge campaign — are allowed across the recently restored Bridgeport Covered Bridge during Thursday’s grand reopening. The bridge was closed to foot traffic in 2011, when efforts to restore and raise the bridge began.
Photo: Elias Funez

A Nevada County resident walked across the Bridgeport Covered Bridge — legally — for the first time in a decade Thursday afternoon.

According to Save Our Bridge’s Doug Moon, the $6.9 million rehabilitation project has finally come to a close, with $545,000 coming from the federal government’s Department of Transportation, $40,000 through local fundraising efforts and the remainder covered by the state.

Don Schmidt, a retired ranger who emceed Thursday’s event commemorating the community’s successful effort to rehabilitate the bridge, said he remembers feeling like the bridge was breathing when he first stood on it as a new ranger 30 years ago.



Now, Schmidt said, thanks to the collective efforts of the community, people may once again use the bridge for its intended purpose — to connect.

The restored 1862 Bridgeport Covered Bridge was reopened Thursday afternoon for the first time to foot traffic after a 10-year, multi-million dollar restoration process.
Photo: Elias Funez

“Bridges are a place of connection,” Schmidt said. “This bridge and these connections (are special).”



Under puffs of white clouds and leaves of red and yellow, Schmidt said the Bridgeport Covered Bridge is a place where people connect with themselves, one another and to nature.

The 225-foot, single-span Howe Truss, Burr Arch structure is the only one of its kind in the nation, Schmidt said. Its context — the people and the topography — give it real meaning.

Fourth generation Nevada County farmer and District 4 Supervisor Sue Hoek said she recalled herding her family’s cows across the bridge as child.

Prominent advocates for the restoration of the Bridgeport Covered Bridge, including members of the community and politicians, were presented with commemorative shingles saved from before the restoration.
Photo: Elias Funez

Shelly Covert, the spokeswoman for the Nevada City Nisenan Rancheria, said she would always ask her grandmother to drive over the bridge during family trips to the Yuba River’s access point in Bridgeport. At the time her family was living in French Corral.

The Bridgeport Covered Bridge was constructed in 1862, and determined to be unsafe in 2011.

The bridge’s disrepair has been the subject of conversation in front of county supervisors and state legislators for over nine years.

‘TIME ITSELF IS A BRIDGE’

The ribbon cutting ceremony highlighted how the bridge connected Nevada County residents across dimensions and generations.

Sue-Dee Fowler, a huge financial supporter of the local effort to get the bridge back in action, said her late husband was the great-great grandson of the bridge’s original architect.

Sue-Dee Fowler and her son Richard Fowler cross the Bridgeport Covered Bridge for the first time since its restoration.
Photo: Elias Funez

Covert sang a song in the Nisenan language to commemorate the ribbon cutting, adding that she was grateful to be there, and for her people to be recognized and prioritized during a history-making moment.

“It takes witnesses in the community, like the kids with the bridge, to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?” Covert said, referring to the student-led effort to bring awareness to the bridge’s existence and history in the six months preceding the pandemic.

Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay said his own childhood visits to the Yuba came to mind when the Moons — the couple who headed the grassroots Save Our Bridge effort — approached him with their idea to include students in the rehabilitation effort in 2019.

“I remember going there when I was 5 years old with my grandparents,” Lay said. “It’s a piece of living history.”

Lay said he laid out a plan then to get students in every grade to think critically about the bridge, either through a physical, mathematical or historical lens.

Members of the community take in the unique architecture of the Bridgeport Covered Bridge as they are the first to be allowed across the bridge in 10 years during Thursday’s grand reopening.
Photo: Elias Funez

Seventh grader Micah Gordon was in fifth grade when he “traveled back in history” and interviewed his brother, dressed as Alfred Kneebone, one of the bridge’s original developers.

“Time itself is a bridge,” California Director of State Parks Armando Quintero said, adding that the structure at Bridgeport made up an “extraordinary” confluence of art, community and sounds.

Quintero said he was especially grateful that the group Save Our Bridge took it upon itself to salvage and refresh the structure because of the state of public parks at the time of its close in 2011. Quintero said the status of state parks began to be threatened in 2009.

“Disappointment rallied community leaders and that reinvigorated the community,” Quintero said.

Attendees included Assemblywoman Megan Dahle and state Sen. Brian Dahle.

“We had a goal, and we were successful in that goal,” Moon said, adding that he was grateful for all the cooperating agencies and especially his wife, Shirley.

The completed restoration of the 1862 Bridgeport Covered Bridge means people can walk across the bridge from the main parking areas to access the Kneebone Ranch again.
Photo: Elias Funez

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com


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