Saving the old bridge began as an exercise in accidental synergy. Then it became premeditated. The first glimmer was the recognition that the “old” U. S. 231 bridge over the Locust Fork River north of Cleveland needed not to be demolished as a safety liability after the new highway bridge replaced it in 2008. It carried important utility services – water, gas, and telecommunications – attached to the structure. The next flash was one of inspiration. It could not only be saved, but repurposed into something both utilitarian and attractive – as in a tourist attraction – a scenic vista on a scenic river, providing not only scenery but access to the river for recreational usage by residents and the growing tide of tourists from near and far. Then the easy part was over. Realizing the dream only got harder from that point, in the form of a multitude of obstructions – legal, financial, and fortitudinal – all of which were overcome by a county commission determined to outlast the adversity.
Outlast it they did. It paid off Monday with the dedication of a significant new state tourist destination, completed at a cost of just under $423,231, with a cost underrun of $43,000, thanks to some heroic work by commission road crews, the county engineering office, and a large cast of collaborators, contractors, partners, and supporters too numerous to catalogue. But several of the main ones must be identified: the Alabama Department of Transportation, who “gave” the bridge to Blount County in an exchange of equities, then remained involved through final resolution of many complications; others included the Town of Cleveland, Marshall County Gas, and Whitaker Contracting, all of whom had skin in the game. Providing continuous support and expertise were Friends of the Locust Fork River and the Alabama Scenic Trails organization. The contractor on the project was Lambert Contracting.
“It takes a lot of people pulling in the same direction to make something good like this happen,” Green said. “Seems like bad things happen all by themselves,” he added as a afterthought. He then named a score or more of organizations and individuals who contributed to the success of the venture.
David Reed, owner of Whitaker Contracting, put the project in concise perspective. “They had unbelievable obstacles to overcome to bring this about,” he said. “But in terms of what they created, it’s been well worth the effort. It’s a monument to the people of the county that they were able to accomplish it.”