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August set as target date to start bridge move

By Tammy Keith

This article was published July 14, 2016 at 12:00 a.m.

CONWAY — With every storm that passes through rural Faulkner County, the 142-year-old iron bowstring truss bridge takes a beating.

“Every time it rains, it flows over that thing, and trees fall on it, and it beats it up,” said Jack Bell, chief of staff for the city of Conway. “That’s why we kind of want to get it moved as soon as we can.”

Beginning in late August, Bell said, the tedious, detailed job of moving the 1874 Springfield-

Des Arc bridge to Beaverfork Lake in Conway will begin. The bridge — the oldest bowstring bridge in Arkansas — spans Cadron Creek northwest of Wooster between Faulkner and Conway counties.

The bridge has sat idle since 1991, when the road was relocated and the bridge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, went out of service.

“There’s the fear that it will get washed down into the creek,” Bell said.

He said all indications are that when it went out of use, the bridge was given to Faulkner County, although no paperwork on that transaction has been found. He said Conway County authorities gave their blessing for the bridge to be moved.

Workin’ Bridges, a nonprofit group in Iowa, will perform the bridge’s rehabilitation. It is led by contractor Julie Bowers, who first visited the bridge in 2011.

“We’re excited; we’ve wanted to save this for a very long time,” Bowers said.

A contract for $328,760 with the organization was approved at the last Conway City Council meeting, Bell said.

The bridge will be placed at the west end of Beaverfork Lake cove, northwest of the swimming area, he said, and will be visible from Arkansas 25. The bridge will connect the fishing pier to the swimming area.

“We’ll have to build ramps to it and all that, so it will be more than that $328,760,” he said.

The city received a $300,000 Metroplan 80-20 matching grant for the project and agreed to pay $60,000. Also, Conway will pay for the abutments that will be built at Beaverfork Lake, Bell said. He said last week that he won’t have a cost estimate until he knows what the engineer designs.

The contract amount increased from the original estimate because of a metal railing required for pedestrian use, Bell said.

“To make it true to honor the history of the bridge, it will be a metal-lattice railing, [and it] will be safe for people to be on it,” he said.

Bowers and Nels Raynor, co-founder of Workin’ Bridges, a master craftsman and a steel worker, visited Conway June 7 to meet with city leaders.

Jim Schiffer, engineer for the project, visited the site this week to look at the bridge, as well as the Beaverfork Lake location.

Bowers said Schiffer took soil-boring samples, in addition to taking measurements.

“He’ll design the abutments we’ll have to put in,” Bell said. He said they likely will be concrete with a stone facade, “something that will look as authentic as they can. We want it to last another 100 years.”

Bell said a crane will lift the bridge off the creek and move the structure to land nearby. He said Best Cranes & Rigging Inc., which has an office in Conway, will do the

lifting at cost. Faulkner County

will build a gravel pad for the crane to sit on, Bell said.

“We’ll take [the bridge] apart and transfer it where it will end up,” he said. “At one time, we thought about hauling it in one piece, but they’re going to take it apart anyway, and it makes more sense to take it apart there.”

The bridge will be sandblasted, cleaned, refurbished and parts replaced. Bowers said it will look like new once her group is done with its work.

“It will look beautiful when it’s [at Beaverfork Lake],” she said. “We are so excited to get to come to Arkansas and get to restore this bridge and move it to where people can see it and appreciate it.”

The bridge was built by King Bridge Manufactory & Iron Works of Iola, Kansas, a branch of the King Bridge Co. of Cleveland, Ohio.

“There aren’t many left in America. It’s the oldest, longest King bridge of that type in the United States. In Arkansas, it is an important bridge,” Bowers said in an earlier interview.

Last week, Bowers reiterated the bridge’s importance.

“We’re very excited that the city has found a way to use our experts. These bridges really do take an expertise, … not that it’s not trainable, but your bridge is special. It’s significant nationally, as well as for Arkansas.”

Bell said care is being taken at each stage of the process to keep the bridge historically accurate.

“We’re trying to get all appropriate permits to make sure it stays on the National Register of Historic Places,” he said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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