Transportation

A beloved Gold Country covered bridge is teetering. Here’s the $3 million plan to save it

Historic Bridgeport Covered Bridge to be repaired over Yuba River

Organizers of the Save Our Bridge Committee in Nevada County have secured enough funding to begin work on restoring the aging span after seven years of efforts.
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Organizers of the Save Our Bridge Committee in Nevada County have secured enough funding to begin work on restoring the aging span after seven years of efforts.

One of California’s most distinctive bridges, the historic but tottering Bridgeport Covered Bridge in the Nevada County foothills, is about to be saved, thanks to lobbying efforts by local bridge fans and state parks department officials.

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature have allocated $3.3 million to begin a major reconstruction of the structure, starting next summer.

The shingled bridge, which is the longest single-span, wood-covered bridge in the United States, had to be closed seven years ago when officials noticed significant bowing of its huge timber trusses.

Parks officials said they feared the structure would topple during a heavy winter snow- or rainstorm or if the Yuba River flowed high.

A contingent of supporters in the surrounding counties launched a campaign to find funding, prompting the state to secure enough money in 2014 to build a temporary iron girdle around the bridge to stabilize it.

The permanent $3.3 million fix is expected to take a year to complete. It should allow the state to reopen the bridge for visitors and hikers to walk across by summer 2019.

The bridge, a truss-and-arch structure with sugar pine shingles, has been a popular international tourist attraction in the South Yuba River State Park in Nevada County.

Cast-iron tension rods have stretched and are no longer holding key bridge pieces in alignment. Two-foot-thick Douglas fir timbers have pulled away from each other. Key support beams have bowed as much as 5 inches.

State Parks Superintendent Matt Green said the work will be complex, because the state is required to do the fixes in a way that maintains the bridge’s historic materials and look.

“We are trying to preserve 80 or 90 percent of its integrity,” he said. The designs “look great. I think we are there.”

Members of the local group that supports the state park warned, though, in a recent newsletter that the process will be tricky.

“There are sure to be challenges and possible delays, but if we all keep our eyes fixed on the goal ... we can save our bridge!” wrote Doug Moon, chairman of the South Yuba River Park Association’s bridge committee.

The bridge played a major role during California’s formative years. Constructed in 1862 by David Wood, a sawmill owner, it was a key toll crossing on the Virginia Turnpike wagon trail between Marysville and the silver mines near Virginia City, Nev. Carts pulled by eight horses, mules or oxen paid $6 to cross. A one-horse buggy paid $1 to cross. Horse riders paid 50 cents. People on foot paid 25 cents. Hog owners paid 5 cents per hog.

The bridge later served motorized cars taking the northern, lower-elevation route through the mountains.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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