Brown County will be getting bridges for the Salt Creek Trail after all, bringing it one step closer to expanding the pedestrian path toward the state park.

The iron bridges are slated to go in the middle phase of the trail, which will eventually connect Brown County State Park and downtown Nashville. Their exact placement over Salt Creek hasn’t been determined, said Salt Creek Trail Committee Chairman Bob Kirlin.

The two-span Parker Truss bridge, built in 1933 to replace a covered bridge, is still part of State Road 46 over the Eel River in Clay County. The Indiana Department of Transportation plans to replace the two spans with a modern concrete bridge.

Because it’s historic and of “select” status, INDOT is required to find a new home for the bridge and pay to move and refurbish it to hold up to its new use. But a local entity had to sign an agreement with INDOT to take care of it for at least 25 years.

The Clay County Commissioners unanimously decided last week to not take responsibility for maintaining the bridge where it is — reversing an earlier decision, according to The Brazil Times.

John Davis, a deputy director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, told those commissioners that the bridge will have “a good home” in Brown County.

“Personally, I’m thrilled,” said Brown County Commissioner Diana Biddle.

Earlier this fall, Salt Creek Trail Committee members were starting to get discouraged that INDOT might decide keeping it in Clay County was the best course. That would have meant raising hundreds of thousands more dollars to build bridges on the trail from the ground up.

Biddle said much work remained before the moving could be done.

One of those steps is finalizing ownership details between the county and INDOT.

Last winter, the Brown County Commissioners sent a letter of intent saying they wanted both spans of the bridges and that they would take responsibility for the second section. According to the letter, the first section was to be the Department of Natural Resources’ responsibility to maintain, because it is to be placed in the state park.

Biddle said the commissioners had not yet signed any formal agreement with INDOT because around the time the letter of intent was sent, Clay County residents expressed interest in developing a park around the bridge and began to rally support.

She expected the commissioners would see that agreement at their next quarterly meeting with INDOT in January.

Engineering company Parsons had notified the Brown County Commissioners last summer that INDOT’s preference was to move the bridge to Brown County.

In its letter of intent, the Brown County Commissioners said a concerted effort will be made “to prominently display information about the origin of the Eel River Bridge and its history.”

Delivery of the bridges was one holdup to starting construction on other phases of the Salt Creek Trail.

Another is determining a route for the middle phase and acquiring land. Kirlin said those discussions can begin “in the near future.”

“We were kind of waiting to see what would happen with the bridges,” he said.

Kirlin said Phases 1 through 3 — from the park to downtown — are fully funded, but the state has its part of that money budgeted for 2017.

An INDOT timeline on rehabilitating and moving the bridge shows that work could be done by the summer of 2018.

The only planned phase of the trail that is not yet funded is Phase 4, to connect the YMCA and the Brown County Schools campus downtown, Kirlin said.

Bridge in brief

HISTORIC: The Eel River Bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. As part of the Indiana Historic Bridge Inventory, the bridge also was determined to be “select”: Most suitable for preservation and an excellent example of a given type of historic bridge.

REHAB: “Major rehabilitation work” is needed because nearly all the bridge’s steel members show rust and or/minor corrosion and a portion of the bracing has been removed because of continued damage from crashes. The bridge has been closed three times since 2011 for repairs.

WHY MOVE? About 10,000 people are expected to use the Salt Creek Trail every year; pedestrian use of the bridge in its current location in Bowling Green would be minimal and “provide little value to the general public as a historic site.” Also, repairs would not have to be as extensive for pedestrian use as for vehicular use.

STILL HISTORIC? INDOT’s research showed that the bridge could still be eligible for the National Register based on its architectural value. It was originally listed because of its importance in the settlement and economic development of Clay County. In September, a historian with the National Register accepted INDOT’s additional documentation about the architecture but denied INDOT’s request to approve moving the bridge. “The proposal to dismantle the bridge, separating the two trusses and placing them in two different locations would destroy the historic integrity … and render it ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places,” the historian wrote.

Source: “Request to move the SR 46 Bridge over the Eel River” by INDOT Cultural Resources Office staff, May 2015

Sara Clifford has been raising a family in Brown County since 2005 and leading the Brown County Democrat since late 2009. In addition to editor, she is the beat reporter for town government and writes columns, features and general news stories.