Needed maintenance preserves historic Ligonier swinging bridge
A suspended footbridge crossing Loyalhanna Creek is one of those hidden treasures that many never see as they pass through Ligonier along Route 30.
Recently, upgrades were completed at the historic bridge by members of the Loyalhanna Watershed Association and other community volunteers to provide a safe crossing.
“This bridge is the only suspension bridge that remains along the Loyalhanna Creek,” said Susan Huba, the association's executive director. “It is one of very few that remains in Westmoreland County, and perhaps the state.”
The bridge has allowed residents and trail visitors to cross the popular fishing creek safely since the early 1920s. It connects the Nicely Road side of the creek to the Route 30 East side.
Huba said half of the cost of the repairs was secured through a grant.
“LWA received a $1,000 grant award from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Environmental Stewardship Fund, administered by the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor,” said Huba.
The association has worked with Ligonier Township and Ligonier Borough since the late 1970s to establish and maintain a one-mile-long Loyalhanna Nature Trail that leads to and from the swinging bridge. The primitive trail, located on a portion of the former Ligonier Valley Rail Road, covers 18 acres of floodplain between the Loyalhanna Creek and Mill Creek.
“The historic swinging bridge is an attraction of sorts,” said Huba. “And the trail provides visitors an opportunity to walk, run, bike or cross-country ski. The trail also allows fisherman to access the delayed harvest section of the creek.”
A routine inspection by the association in 2012 determined the bridge was not safe.
“Repairs needed to be made to the bridge to ensure the safety of the structure and allow it to remain open as a unique attraction to trail visitors, as well as local residents and recreationalists,” said Huba.
Since early spring, association volunteers have been making repairs to the bridge footboards and cable supports. Gibson-Thomas Engineering provided engineering assistance on the repairs and Ligonier Township Supervisors provided assistance in removing collapsed concrete steps on the Nicely Road side of the bridge.
“This is one of our conservation projects. It fits right in with our mission that we are preserving, protecting and restoring a part of Ligonier's history,” said Wink Knowles association board president.
Knowles and board member Herb Gundy recently conducted a work day with Youth Conservation Corps students to erect new sign and install safety netting on the bridge.
“Herb and I did most of the work ourselves. To have the YCC crew here will allow us to get it finished sooner so people can get back on the bridge, said Knowles”
Cotton safety netting will replace rusted wire fencing. Rotted wood was replaced by new deck railing.
“They are working on a part of history. That is important,” said Bill Repko YCC crew leader.
Repko of Latrobe made the new brown and white wooden sign that was erected by the volunteers.
“We had options,” said Gundy. “Some people would have preferred to take down the bridge. Hopefully, it will be around another 15-20 years before it needs repaired again.”
Corps members Phebe Cornell and Anthony Monteparte helped dig the post pole for the new sign and helped string the new netting along the bridge.
Cornell, 17, of Ligonier said she joined the Youth Corps at the suggestion of her mother, who also served on a similar crew at the Saratoga Battlefield when she was a teen.
“She thought I would enjoy it, and she was right,” said Cornell.
Monteparte, 18, of Latrobe is proud of the work they completed at the bridge.
“One day it will be nice to come back to see what we've done,” said Monteparte. “I am glad to be able to help keep history alive.”
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.