Breaking ground on Bridgeport bridge restoration
Kurt and Nancy Lorenz were ecstatic to get a quick tour Tuesday inside the historic Bridgeport Covered Bridge before contractors descend on it this week with engineers, architects, machinery, I-beams and cables.
“It’s great to get back in it and smell it,” said Kurt Lorenz, adding that he and his wife are longtime Nevada County residents, Bridgeport Bridge-lovers and members of the San Juan Ridge Citizens League and the San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association. “It’s a fantastic piece of engineering.”
The Lorenzes were two of about 50 people at Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony for a two-phase, $1.5 million stabilization and restoration project.
The work, the successful outcome of months of community letter-writing, phone calls, lobbying and rallying to get the attention of Sacramento lawmakers, will reopen the circa-1862 bridge, centerpiece of the South Yuba River State Park system.
The ailing bridge was shuttered first for motor traffic, and then, in 2011, to pedestrians as well.
“It’s been an outright shame to be keeping it closed,” said bridge docent Al Yates. “This is the longest single-span, wood-covered bridge in the country — some say, the world.”
Nevada City Councilman Robert Bergman, a member of the Save Our Bridge Committee led by residents Doug and Shirley Moon, said the span was not expected to survive another harsh winter. If the funding had not come through, it might be destroyed by the next heavy rains.
“No one would want to lose this,” said Bergman, whose 1997 photo of a splintered and near-flooded bridge was delivered to Sacramento legislators as part of Nevada County Supervisor Hank Weston’s successful community-supported lobbying campaign.
“I think it is so wonderful to see the collaborative work for something like this get through all the slug and slop that’s necessary and come through to a good end.”
Caleb Dardick, executive director of the South Yuba River Citizens League, said it was a “textbook case of a community coming together and overcoming enormous odds” to get the budget allocation. “Years ago, we proved that people could save a (Yuba) river, then later, that people could save a (Bridgeport) park, and today, that people could save a bridge.”
David Anderson, president of the South Yuba River State Park Association, said the Save Our Bridge members “must stay vigilant” to monitor the construction process until the span is finally restored.
“Our new motto is ‘Save Our Bridge — Get It Done,’” said Anderson. “I look forward to the day when we can stand on the bridge, close our eyes, and feel the history, hear the horses’ hooves, the rattling of the wagons and go back into the soul and history of the bridge.”
RSC Construction is expected to begin the stabilization process immediately, targeted for a Dec. 30 completion. Restoration work, which will start during 2014-15 with planning, permitting and engineering, will begin soon after.
It was not immediately clear how long the subsequent construction would take, but those at the ceremony Tuesday speculated it could be two or three years.
Thanks also went to California State Parks Sierra Gold Sector Superintendent Matt Green, who supported the community efforts.
In addition, State Assemblyman Brian Dahle, according to his legislative director Cheri West, lobbied colleagues who served on the pivotal legislative budget subcommittee that had the ultimate decision on funding.
“Thanks for your tenacity,” West told the crowd. “We were flooded with calls.”
U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa said he was pleased to see the bridge saved and that it would “have a good foundation to move forward.”
He was echoed by Nevada County Supervisor Nate Beason, who gave kudos to colleague Weston.
“We’re on the verge on something great,” Beason said. “It would not have happened if virtually all of the community didn’t participate and we didn’t have Hank Weston, who carried the water for the politicos.”
Filmmaker Alden Olmsted, whose late father John Olmsted is credited with helping to establish Bridgeport State Park in 1984 and who built the Independence Trail near the South Yuba River, was filming Tuesday’s ceremony for a possible documentary.
He said he wants to interview old-timers who still remember the earlier days of the Bridgeport Bridge and who may not be around too much longer.
“Those docents know the history,” said Olmsted, whose earlier documentary, “The Story of Jug Handle,” is airing this year on various PBS-TV stations and is posted at KVIE.org. “We’ve got to make sure we capture it.”
He said if there is funding for the documentary, he would like to make one version for PBS and another to show at the Bridgeport State Park visitors center.
Those wishing to help with financing the documentary project may contact South Yuba River State Park Association, Olmsted said.
Dardick said he didn’t want to forget to thank Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed off on financing the restoration project.
“Thanks for listening to us,” Dardick said as a message to Brown. “He saw that it was more than just about saving a historical place — it was about saving a place that’s magical.”
For more information about the bridge, see http://www.southyubariverstatepark.org.
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.
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