A covered bridge in the South Yuba River State Park has been closed to the public since 2011 because of structural problems. But work is starting soon to restore the historic 1862 structure.
The 229-foot Bridgeport Covered Bridge is one of the main tourist draws to the South Yuba State River Park in Nevada County. Nearly one-million people visited the state park from 2012-to-2013, with most coming to see the Gold Rush-era bridge.
"It is the longest single span wood-covered bridge left in the world,” said Doug Moon, Chairman of the Save Our Bridge Committee.
Moon said the bridge is also a national and state historic landmark. And, until the 1970s, cars still traveled across the bridge.
"When you're in the middle of it and you're walking across it, you can actually almost hear and feel the hoofs of the wagon trains going through there and all of the miners and all of the equipment that was moved through there,” said Moon. “It's a very cool bridge to be inside of."
But no one has been allowed to walk inside the bridge because of structural problems. Moon said after 150 years, adjustable steel rods, which were part of the original construction, are no longer functioning. He said those rods were used to straighten the bridge, which is now bowing.
“The bridge was deemed structurally unsound and closed in 2011, but up until then, it was open for wagon trains, horses, and people to walk over it since 1862, and auto traffic until 1972,” said Moon.
He said the bridge was a key thoroughfare as part of the “Virginia Turnpike” and is a major part of California Gold Rush history.
“A lot of the traffic that was going to the gold fields crossed that toll bridge,” said Moon. “Most of the traffic headed to the silver mines in the Comstock Lode in Nevada used the bridge too.”
He said the unique construction of the bridge, which includes metal adjustment rods, allowed it to be straightened with regular adjustments.
“Some of the wood beams in the bridge are huge and obviously cut from very mature growth trees,” said Moon. “We have to try to duplicate that here, and finding trees of that size that are mature enough may be a challenge.”
Moon said the stabilization work starts in September and will wrap up by the end of December 2014.
“They're going to put, almost like a girdle on the bridge, to stabilize it, there will be rods that alongside the bridge and then rods that run under it to hold it, to cradle the bridge,” Moon explained. “And then the second part of the project is the reconstruction and restoration of it."
He said bridge repair and restoration work, along with the needed permits, will take several years. State funding is covering the $1.3 million restoration project. Moon expects the Bridgeport Covered Bridge will reopen by 2018, but he said “hopefully sooner.”