A 120-Day Reprieve Could Equal 100 Years

Alliance Will Present Plan To Supes Tonight
September 15, 2003

100 Year Future Reprieve triggers plan for 100-year future for Clarkton Bridge linking Charlotte and Halifax counties across the Staunton River.

A 120-day demolition reprieve for historic Clarkton Bridge may not only have saved the structure but could create a bold new tourism destination along the Staunton River.

The Clarkton Bridge Alliance will present its plan for saving the bridge during the 6 p.m. meeting of the Board of Supervisors tonight at Mary Bethune.

On May 19, less than 36 hours before bids for demolition of historic Clarkton Bridge were opened, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Whitt Clement granted a 120-day demolition reprieve.

That reprieve ends September 19.

"What we've outlined is how Clarkton Bridge can be used for another century by being incorporated into a regional network of trails for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding," said P.K. Pettus, one of the driving forces to save the bridge and a member of the Clarkton Bridge Alliance.

"I think the preponderance of evidence and the acknowledgment from department heads and experts in the field of historic preservation say it is an incredible opportunity," said Carl Espy, an Alliance member. "It should not be missed."

Supporting the Alliance's efforts is Gordon Lohr, director of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation and the Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation.

"In recent years we have been working hard to preserve the view that Mr. Henry enjoyed 200 years ago when he called this area 'one of the garden spots of the world.'

"We are expanding our interpretation of the relationship of Henry's house and plantation with the Staunton River and the road between Charlotte and Halifax.
"That road crossed at the ferry Henry operated here in the 1790s, which was a direct forerunner of the historic 1901 Clarkton Bridge," wrote John Kukla, executive vice president of PHMF.

"As your report ably shows, preserving this bridge can play an important role as a catalyst for protecting our heritage and environment and for low-impact economic benefits in the years ahead."

"The APVA, with its long history of preservation in Virginia has taken a serious look at the Clarkton Bridge and has concluded that it is a structure worthy of preservation," Lohr said in endorsement of the project.

"It is an asset that we should not destroy without every consideration of its potential use," he added.

The Burton Wildlife Foundation is also backing the Alliance's efforts, adding another perspective.

Jerry Craig, executive director of the Foundation, said that preserving the bridge "will tie in with the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail, the Greenway and so many other activities in Southside Virginia.

"Whether visitors and local citizens want to hike, bike or participate in 'watchable wildlife' activities, the Clarkton Bridge will serve as an integral part of historic Virginia," he wrote.

"For the plan to become reality, a number of hurdles must be jumped. Our hope is that after reviewing our plan, Secretary. Clement will be confident enough to say demolition should be postponed," Pettus said yesterday.

Two Images of Summer

What sparked the effort to save Clarkton bridge was the April 1 presentation in Keysville by David Whitehurst of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries on the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail, Pettus recalled.

"It challenged local residents to nominate birding sites, and Clarkton Bridge was unanimously named," she added.

Instead of the state constructing presentation decks, Pettus said Clarkton Bridge, a 673-foot long bridge, is approximately 10,000 square feet of bird watching platform over a scenic river.

The bridge is also easily adaptable for handicap access.

"People of all ages can enjoy the sights and sounds of the Staunton River," she said. "It expands access to a diverse population."

"We've come up with a strong plan of how this fits into a large vision for recreational planning, heritage and nature tourism in South Virginia."

The Clarkton Bridge Plan

The Alliance's immediate goal is to prevent the destruction of the bridge, with a shared goal of relieving VDOT of the responsibility for the property as soon as possible.

A plan for public ownership, with a back-up private sector option, is part of the package expected to be presented to Secretary Clement.

The Clarkton Bridge Alliance's spokesmen include Pettus, Espy and Halifax resident Dan Shaw.

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