September 27, 2004

VDOT To Own, Maintain Bridge
Supporters Must Raise Repair Funds To Include Clarkton Bridge In Tourism Effort

A permanent owner has been named for the Clarkton Bridge and construction is under way as an effort to turn the bridge into a regional tourist destination kicks off, members of the Clarkton Bridge Alliance said yesterday.

Advocates said saving the bridge was the first step in a regional initiative focusing on heritage tourism and outdoor recreation along the Staunton River corridor.

"The bridge is the catalyst for a larger tourism effort in the county using the Staunton River as a centerpiece," W.W. "Ted" Bennett said. "If we'd lost the bridge, there would have been a large piece of the puzzle missing."

Through support from several area corporations, contributions from individual donors and the cooperation of VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet, critical repairs to the span began this week.

But more money is needed to complete the plans for the bridge.

"We still need to raise funds for the bridge repairs," Jack Dunavant said. "In addition, we want to put together a 'Staunton River Summitt' to discuss how the bridge can fit in with the larger plans for the area.

"We plan to reach out to area citizens, local governments and non-profit groups to identify points of interest in the river corridor," he added.

"This could be a year-round tourism draw for the county," county Tourism Director Linda Sheppard said.

Clearing one major hurdle in the struggle to save the bridge, Shucet agreed that VDOT will continue to own and maintain the bridge if members of the Alliance provide the funds for the critical repairs to the aging structure.

Costs to repair one of the bridge's support piers, replace the decking on the bridge and install handrails for pedestrian use are estimated at more than $500,000, according to Dunavant.

"This challenge, to raise (that amount of money) in a matter of months, was beyond the reach of local government and we had to go to the private sector," Bennett said.

Anonymous individual donors provided $225,000 in August to set up the Clarkton Bridge Fund.

Work on the bridge is expected to take approximately 120 days.

English Construction Company in Lynchburg has offered to manage the project.

Vulcan Materials is providing stone to construct a causeway during the construction project and Morgan Lumber in Charlotte County has offered to identify sources of lumber for the decking and handrails. In addition, several area trucking firms have offered to assist in the effort if needed.

While these in-kind contributions have helped to greatly reduce the cost of the repairs, more than $200,000 is still needed.

Alliance members are in the process of acquiring land on both the Charlotte and Halifax county sides of the river. (See aerial photo)

"We've signed a contract on 3.3 acres on the Halifax County side of the river," Bennett said, adding the land came with a manufactured home on the property. "We need someone to buy the home and move it by October 29.

"We want to use the land as an overlook and parking and picnic area," Dunavant said, adding that the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation will assist in the design and layout of the area.

For more than a year, county residents have joined together to promote the idea of adapting the bridge as part of a regional network of walking, bicycling and horseback trails.

Opening ceremonies for the Central Virginia section of the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail will be held at Monticello Thursday.

Following the event, travel writers for national and regional publications will tour the area.

They are scheduled to stop at the Clarkton Bridge.

For more information or to make a donation contact the Jon Kukla at the Clarkton Bridge Restoration Fund at 434-376-2044.