October 9, 2005

Celebrating Victory At Clarkton Bridge

A Regional Fight To Save The 1901 Bridge Opens Door To Clarkton Bridge To Red Hill Trail, Part Of A Larger Tourism And Recreation Initiative

OPEN FOR BUSINESS – Cub Scouts from Charlotte and Halifax counties untied a ribbon Friday in a ceremonial gesture signifying the opening of the Clarkton Bridge. (G-V Photo/Keith Strange)
Braving a steady rain, historic Clarkton Bridge’s champions gathered on the banks of the Staunton River Friday afternoon to celebrate the bridge’s survival, restoration and its new role as part of the Tobacco Heritage Trail, a regional recreational and historic sites link.

Saving the bridge, which was once slated for demolition by VDOT, drew support from Halifax and Charlotte counties’ supervisors, historic preservationists, Gov. Warner, former VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet, Congressman Virgil Goode and a core of tireless volunteers, with the drive primarily coordinated by the Clarkton Bridge Alliance.

Several hundred gathered under a tent near the bridge to celebrate the bridge’s re-opening Friday afternoon.

During the Friday event, it was announced by David Whitehurst of the Department of Inland Fisheries that the Clarkton Bridge Alliance had been awarded a ‘Scenic Hero Award’ for best preservation of a scenic river corridor given by the organization Scenic Virginia. The award will be presented in Richmond on November 1.

“We almost lost this bridge,” said Conservationist Ward Burton prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Using “the past to get to the present and on to the future,” Burton praised those whose efforts saved the bridge.

William Fitzgerald, chairman of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors, thanked all who worked on behalf of the project.

“A group of citizens worked hard and tirelessly,” he said.

Gary Walker, chairman of the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors, told the crowd that the project was not a two-year one, rather a 10-year effort that began with a telephone conversation with Haywood Hamlett, who called for the bridge’s preservation.

“We wanted to do whatever we could to preserve it,” said Halifax attorney and former state delegate W.W. “Ted” Bennett yesterday. “In a pure economic sense, if the bridge was gone it would be a tremendous hole forever, a forever loss for that whole scenic river corridor.”

Bennett said that the bridge’s design and construction make it unique. “It is built on the same principle as a young child’s erector set, put together with pins, and if you pull the pins the bridge will collapse,” he said. “It was built before welding was established. So it is a great mathematics and physics lesson for kids.”

P.K. Pettus, a spokesman for the Clarkton Bridge Alliance, requested the demolition reprieve in May of 2003, when the bridge was slated for demolition.”

It was a very pleased Pettus who observed Sunday: “Well it rained on our parade Friday but clearly it did not dampen our spirits or our festivities. “At this point, the most important story is the remarkable partnership that came together across so many organizations over so many years,” she said. “The local partner, regional and statewide and national organizations, especially the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and state and federal agencies and our local governments, each one of them played a role that was really important in saving this bridge.

“ For instance, the National Park Service. It was there coming out with a letter in 2003 testifying to the national significance of Clarkton Bridge that really gave us a boost when we needed it,” recalled Pettus.

“The other was the July 2, 2004, letter from the deputy general counsel at the National Trust For Preservation requesting the Army Corps of Engineers to suspend their permit authorizing the demolition and to re-open the permit approval process. Each was an important nudge that helped ensure the bridge would stand,” she added.

Anonymous donors ultimately contributed $225,000 toward bridge repairs, and “English Construction gave the profit to help meet the mark,” Bennett told the crowd Friday. (W.C. English, Inc., of Lynchburg agreed to manage the repairs with the assistance of Shwartz and Associates, another Lynchburg firm.) Local forest product landowners and producers, led by Morgan Lumber of Red Oak, donated wood for the bridge floor and rails.

The ceremony Friday marked the opening of the Clarkton Bridge to Red Hill Trail, an “on road” segment of the Tobacco Heritage Trail, a new regional trail network that will connect historic and recreation sites throughout Halifax, Charlotte, Mecklenburg, Lunenburg and Brunswick counties.
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