Bunker Mill Bridge (almost) Completed

The Bunker Mill Bridge at the end of its completed restoration project. Photo courtesy of Scott Allen
The Bunker Mill Bridge at its Endspurt of the restoration project. Photo courtesy of Scott Allen

With New Decking installed, Bridge can be crossed again- Final Phase of work to begin; More financial help needed to complete the final touches.

KALONA, IOWA-  On 13 August, 2013, the same weekend as the Historic Bridge Weekend, a group of people set fire to a unique historic truss bridge spanning the English River southeast of Kalona, a product of the King Bridge and Iron Company. When Julie Bowers and members of the Friends of the Bunker Mill Bridge purchased the structure from the county, the bridge was a mere steel skeleton with no where to cross. Fast forward to March of this year, the new decking has been added to the bridge and one can cross it once again for the first time in a nearly three year absence. A pair of videos by Julie Bowers shows you how the bridge has come a long way from almost being condemned to the wrecking ball to one that will soon become part of a bigger recreational project, including all the fine print involving owning such a historic landmark:

Despite the decking being added, there is still work left to be done with the bridge. A press release by the group shows you the details of the progress, what is next with the project, how much money is needed to complete the last phases and how you can help put the final touches on the project. The press release includes some photos and a cool video provided by Nels Raynor of BACH Steel showing how the new decking is being added. Here’s the release as of 4 April 2016:

Photo by Scott Allen
Photo by Scott Allen

In a stunning development, the Friends of Bunker Mill Bridge® newly appointed officers decided on April 1, 2016 to leave the group managed and funded by NSRGA / Workin’ Bridges. Julie Bowers, Executive Director of NSRGA, was informed of their decision on Saturday at Bunker Mill Bridge by Henry Swantz. While we applaud their efforts to start a new non profit company to work with the bridge, under advise of counsel, until they are recognized as such, with the solid financial and insurance backing that they need, their efforts with the bridge ownership are over, and the representatives to our board from FBMB – Doris Park and Scott Allen gave up their rights as board members”, stated Julie Bowers. “I’m not sure they realized what they were doing when they decided to leave but we’ve seen this before when people that are working together get a title. However, the executive director needed more official help and it seemed to be a good time for that change. The new officers appointed were Travis Yeggy, President and Scott Allen, Executive Director, Mike Riddle, VP, Doris Park, Secretary and Irma Altenhofen, Treasurer. With the consent of the core group they decided to go rogue. They didn’t want to stand behind the binding legal agreements and promises held by NSRGA and FBMB. NSRGA / Workin’ Bridges (W’B) is the legal owner and contractor for the project and will continue to work the bridge project as money and scheduling permit.

We are hopeful that the new non profit will work to find collaborators within the county and region to build a bigger and better park for northern Washington County. NSRGA / Workin’ Bridges will donate $1000 to help get them started. We will not use any of the $1680 in donations that recently came in for bridge construction for that. W’B is really geared to be interim owners of bridges, and our insurance is realized because of the experts that we use to engineer and restore our bridges. This bridge was to be the first to become one of our bridge parks. Once the Bunker Mill Project is complete, we hope to have many conversations on it’s future. We’ve found, especially with this project, that we need to keep construction separate from the friends groups and local politics. Most friends groups don’t have the expertise to pull off such large and expensive projects, that is why the county allowed us to take on what they didn’t want, because we had those credentials. This is our mission, to preserve historic bridges and greenbelts, and with our growth we are pleased to be able to help an Iowa bridge.

Workin’ Bridges, in an effort to move the project forward in January, encouraged the group to reach out for donors. W’B invested $21,000 in materials and roughly $20,000 in labor for BACH Steel to bring the bridge this far, after their donated time installing stringers. Bowers wants people to understand that while we have come a very long way towards our goal of “Crossing the English”, we are not there yet. Another $30,000 will be required for repair of rail on the approach and the new railing system on the bridge. A wing wall for the south approach is being designed and engineered, and once ready we will bid that work. The north approach, while it held the weight of the JCB, has more spongy planks now. Funding will drive the schedule for completion. Portal gates will be installed on the bridge in order to keep those interested in the project safe until it is finished. We don’t want anyone falling off the bridge in their excitement. The bridge was engineered for recreational use, a maintenance truck, horses and buggies and people for the future, but it is limited in what it can do. The easements were acquired for the preservation and protection of the bridge only.

Each of the easements, Miller, Ehrenfeldt and Stumpf have different requirements. The Millers wanted nothing on their side, the Ehrenfeldt’s wanted no trespassing signs posted but no fence to keep folks out of their land. In the Stumpf easement, the area was vacated by the county in 2013 to Mr. Stumpf in order to grant us that last easement. At the time and in a meeting, the area was staked out and none of our easement touched Nutmeg Avenue. He has asked us to limit the access of folks coming from the north directly onto his property. Just yesterday someone came out at 5 am to try to walk over the bridge and that made us realize that the bridge park must be controlled more, and that was one of the areas that FBMB was to be working on before they voted to leave the services that we have provided behind. Stumpf has put an offer on the table for a purchase the “Catholic 40” as it is commonly known. Our binding agreement with Stumpf allows for a gated fence that will help us define the park boundaries on the south side. He would also allow the gates open for our regular Tuesday events (that won’t take place this summer) and for special events or visiting Sundays for the Amish. There is no further road vacation needed which only came out on discussions with Stumpf that should have happened years ago. Our south side friends that have enjoyed the bridge and the road will be able to continue to do so. We hope to see them in the middle soon, but in the meantime we have to go back to work to make more money to finish the job. Donations made to FBMB will continue to be tax deductible and if they flood in the schedule will move up. NSRGA has reached out to the Natural Heritage Foundation of Iowa, part of the Land Trust Alliance to help us define what a park would look like and what signage and posted hours need to be. Other groups would also be interested in a collaboration and if partners can be found for a REAP grant, the area could be managed the state DNR as we know the County Conservation Board is not interested in managing a park near Kalona.

Questions can be directed to Julie Bowers, Executive Director of NSRGA / Workin’ Bridges at jbowerz1@gmail.com or 641.260.1262.

And when the Sixth Day was completed, came the Seventh Day, the Day of Rest. And Life was good and the People were happy. Photo by Scott Allen
And when the Sixth Day was completed, came the Seventh Day, the Day of Rest. And Life was good and the People were happy. Photo by Scott Allen

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