News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett Opinion

May 6, 2007

Mark Bennett: With fund-raising efforts falling short, Parke County decides to replace Jeffries Ford covered bridge with a regular concrete span

Rosedale — Like a road in an action movie, barricades block the pavement, and it ends abruptly at the edge of Raccoon Creek.

But this path has no Hollywood ending. Instead, the site is marked by its inactivity.

Where the rustic Jeffries Ford covered bridge once spanned this waterway, only its concrete foundation remains. The lone remnant of its wooden timbers is a charred beam still pegged to the top of the former bridge’s pier in the middle of the stream. It is peacefully silent, except for birds chirping, the rippling of the creek and the roar of diesel farm equipment in a distant field on the other side of the water.

For 87 years, thousands of people used the Jeffries Ford Bridge to cross Raccoon Creek either by vehicle or on foot. Many were sightseeing visitors to the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival. Others, though, were folks living near this rural spot.

All of that traffic ended on April 2, 2002. An arsonist’s fire destroyed Jeffries Ford, which had linked the two sides of the creek since 1915.

That devious act wounded the community historically and logistically. Its loss left Parke County precariously holding on to its title as the “Covered Bridge Capital of the World” — a tourism coup — with 31 of those vintage structures remaining. The destruction also forced local residents to drive more than eight miles on a detour just to reach the other side.

They’re still driving that detour now, even after five years. Fund-raising efforts immediately after the fire generated hopes and plans for a new, larger covered bridge to be built in place of Jeffries Ford. The 204-foot original bridge was too small to accommodate modern farm vehicles and school buses. But the cost of an expanded replacement covered bridge exceeded what the county could raise privately or afford through public funds.

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