by Alivia Acosta, ATC National Service Coordinator
Late in 2019 the Mount Rogers Appalachian Trail Club (MRATC) began considering whether or not they would pursue replacing a twelve-foot bridge after accomplishing a similar project in the Fall. It was not until MRATC became connected with a local college group at the end of January 2020 that concrete planning for the bridge project began to form. As Doug Levin, MRATC Trails Supervisor explains, “Often as a club you have a project without the help or the help without a project. There was no magic formula, just a rare alignment of the stars.”
The previously existing bridge was composed of three logs that spanned approximately twelve feet. Flowing water from a steep rock face on the uphill side of the bridge created a hazardous walking surface after weather events caused surges in velocity. Without any handrails, this treacherous expanse was even more dangerous in the winter months when ice would coat its surface.
In her outreach work for the club, Mary Davis, a Virginia Tech Alumni, came in contact with Christina McIntyre, faculty advisor for the Outdoor Club at Virginia Tech, another A.T.-maintaining club. McIntyre currently was engaged with a group of honors students from University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and was able to connect them to MRATC. From there, clear communication throughout the project enabled a group of nearly one dozen students from the UT- Chattanooga, to partake in the construction of the bridge.
Levin notes that timing for the project was undoubtedly the biggest challenge. Within six weeks, MRATC performed all the planning and preparation necessary for this project. Ron Bobko, fellow MRATC volunteer and carpenter extraordinaire, spent many hours prepping hardware, constructing carpentry jigs, and shopping for as well as delivering all the bridge materials to the U.S. Forest Service Carpentry shop where he and Levin spent two days creating a “bridge kit” of sorts. Ultimately, this work eased the pre-assembly process of what would become a “bowling alley” bridge – named after the resemblance of the walking surface to a bowling alley- according to Forest Service plans.
MRATC volunteers also visited the work site two-days prior to the bridge build to pre-install its footers. This enabled a smoother construction process on the day of the project with the college students; it also allowed hikers to continue using the trail in the interim. Levin explains that the bridge could not have been built without the support of various club members and of Evan Blevins of the Forest Service who provided the shop space necessary for the project, as well as for his help in transporting the materials along the Creeper Trail near the bridge.
On March 10th, after meeting the student group and performing orientation, the project volunteers walked along the Creeper Trail for about a mile. Then they carried the components of the bridge piece by piece, approximately a quarter mile over mildly steep but rocky terrain to the project site. “With guidance, the students performed the majority of the assembly and in about five hours the new bridge was installed.” Explains Levin.