Bridge on the move? BY LARRY ALEXANDER, Staff Writer
The Herr's Mill covered bridge has spanned the Pequea Creek in Paradise Township for 138 years.
Whether it makes it to 139 remains to be seen.
Efforts are under way to save the privately owned bridge, which is on the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County's list of endangered sites, by moving it to another site, hopefully in Lancaster County.
But not necessarily.
Brian Kopan, who owns the bridge and the adjacent Mill Bridge Village Camp Resort, wants it moved. The double-span covered bridge, Lancaster County's longest, is in a 100-year floodplain. High water caused by drenching rain has, at times, turned the bridge into a dam, sending floodwater onto the campground.
Kopan wants to save the bridge, but not at its present site.
"I'm willing to give away the bridge in order to save it," Kopan said.
Enter Nathaniel Guest, a Montgomery County man who works at the Strasburg Rail Road.
Guest has spent the last two years trying to find a home for the bridge. It's a monumental task with two huge impediments -- namely, where to move it, and how to pay for it.
Guest has cleared that first hurdle. Paradise Township has offered to "give the bridge a home," said township Supervisor/Roadmaster Dennis Groff. However, that offer is contingent on the bridge being moved and rebuilt.
"Once it is up and refurbished, we'd maintain it," Groff said.
The new location would be about three miles downstream, where the bridge would connect two sections of Paradise Park that are separated by the Pequea.
"It would eventually be an addition to our walking trail," Groff said. "It'd be across the same waterway it crosses now."
Kopan is all in favor of the township obtaining the bridge.
"I'm partial to Paradise Township because they've been so nice to us, so I'm pulling for them," Kopan said. "But, at this point in time, Nathaniel can't get the necessary funding to do this monstrous project."
Not that Guest hasn't tried.
In Lancaster County, when covered bridges need repair, money often is available through the liquid fuels fund, a state tax consumers pay on fuels, mainly gasoline. However, the Herr's Mill bridge, being privately owned, is not eligible for liquid fuels money, Guest said.
Being privately owned also "makes it more difficult" to get funding from national covered bridge organizations, Guest added.
Guest, who said an engineer estimated the project might cost $1 million, has written requests for support to several local organizations. These include the Armstrong Foundation, Lancaster County Community Foundation, Turkey Hill Dairies, the High Companies and the James Hale Steinman Foundation, but he has had no responses as yet, he said.
Guest said the county's Historic Preservation Trust has attended his meetings concerning the bridge's future, and he has spoken to the Lancaster County commissioners and to Preservation Pennsylvania, a statewide nonprofit organization.
"Everyone is supportive of the idea of saving it, but no one has come to the table with a big bucket of money or pointed to a likely source of funds," Guest said.
Frustrated, Guest added, "You can make the case so strongly that this county has a wonderful collection of bridges, and a covered bridge program that is the model for the whole country. Yet here is possibly the most significant bridge of all, which has been excluded from the program because it's on private property."
Kopan wonders if funds could come from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, because the bridge is in a floodplain and is a potential hazard. Or, he said, perhaps some money could be obtained from the state through the Marcellus Shale fund.
"In Lancaster County, some of the funding goes to bridges or for parks," Kopan said. "There seems to be a clear avenue there since it fits with both those things."
Regardless of whether the money is found, the bridge -- which Kopan said is sturdily built -- seems destined to be moved, if not to Paradise Park then elsewhere. And that elsewhere might not be inside the boundaries of Lancaster County.
John High, known as the "Barn Saver," has expressed interest in the bridge, Kopan said. High makes a living obtaining old barns and other structures, then refurbishing and selling them. High would take the bridge, Kopan said, but there is no telling where it might end up.
"It's a unique structure -- no doubt about it," Groff said. "I'd hate to see it gone forever, especially leaving the area."
Guest said the issue comes down to how much the county cares.
"The question now is, how important is this bridge?" Guest said. "We're at the point where we really need an expression of interest from the folks of Lancaster County.
"People need to know that this bridge is going to go. I have done everything I can do without significant help."
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