Monday, April 23, 2012

Old vs. New... You decide

Just this past Saturday I had the opportunity to visit an historic bridge that had been relocated to a new trail and saved. The Cool Creek I'll call it, was dismantled and saved from demolition in Randolph County in 2005. The little riveted Warren pony truss found favor with a group from Carmel that decided it would fit perfectly into their plans for the new Greyhound Trail. The nearly hundred year old span would have ended up as scrap had it not been for the fortuitous decision made to give it a new life.
Trails are becoming trendy not only in Indiana, but across the nation. Even as the economy has struggled for the past several years, the funding for these pedestrian pathways has seemed to stay rather steady. And "Railbanking" of abandoned railroad corridors means that the future seems bright for even more trails in the coming years. As these trails are planned out and developed, a decision must be made when the obstacle of crossing a stream is reached. The common or what I like to call the "No thought needed" choice has been to order a prefabricated built-to-order span from one of several companies that manufacture them. These Mail Order Bridges...or MOB's as us Bridgehunter's like to call them, all have a rather similar look and lack any real character that make them unique. They are a quick and easy solution that to me ranks right up there with the likes of Instant Mashed Potatoes. They might look real at first, but upon further investigation they are nothing more than an imposter or a "wannabe". Fortunately, there is an alternative that is becoming popular not only in Indiana but across the country. Taking an historic metal bridge that might otherwise find the junkyard and adapting it into the blueprints is becoming as trendy as the trails themselves. A good selection of these bridges are available, and most are unique in one way or another. Often the trail might have to be adapted to accommodate a specific structure, but this only enhances the significance of the bridge and helps to expand the heritage that it brings to the trail. The bridge in Carmel features some unique signage that shows photos of the bridge in it's original location, and the steps taken to get it moved to where it now resides. It also talks about the former interurban route that ran on much of the land that now makes up this trail. So not only do the pedestrians on this trail get exercise for their bodies, but they get a unique history lesson that helps to stimulate their minds... A really neat combination if you ask me!
So, what does it take to make these old spans a common choice for future trails? It takes educating people about about the fragile link to our transportation heritage that can be broken if these bridges are lost. It takes a willingness by organizer's and official's to explore the possibilities of obtaining one or more of these unique structures, rather than just settling for something that looks like it came out of a cookie cutter. The costs are surprisingly similar in most cases, but the outcomes can be drastically different. And the process of obtaining one of them can leave a lasting impression on more than just the community it will serve. More than once I have heard of teary-eyed folks traveling to visit the bridge that formerly spanned the stream of their hometown. A little piece of history can go a long way. Along with Dr. James Cooper, I have helped to create a list of abandoned bridges across the state of Indiana. These spans range from very small pony trusses to some rather impressive multi-span through trusses. Many of these structures might just be available for relocation to a park or trail near you. Pulling these beautiful trusses out of the weeds and bringing them back to life is a dream come true for me. So Old vs. New... I know what my choice would be!