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Old bridge gets new life

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Transport of a 63-foot iron bridge through Iola had motorists doing double-takes Thursday evening.

The bridge, built in 1909 over Owl Creek three miles west of Humboldt, will become part of a new exercise trail at the south edge of Iola. Bids will be taken by Allen County to build a new bridge over the creek in early June.

Thrive Allen County won a $100,000 Healthy Living Grant from the Kansas Health Foundation to develop the Lehigh Portland Rail Trail. This new trail system, an adjunct but not connected directly to the Southwind Rail Trail, will have walking and biking trails, as well as mountain bike trails and related amenities that are rare in this part of Kansas, said David Toland, Thrive executive director.

The bridge, 16½ feet wide, was moved from its moorings early Thursday. Workers from Unruh House Moving, Moundridge, slid the bridge slowly over huge I-beams onto the road north of the creek and atop four timber columns. Dollies were placed under the south end and a moving truck eased under the front.

By early evening the bridge started its 14-mile journey, along county roads, U.S. 54 and then South State Street, to near Allen County shops west of the old Lehigh Cement plant.

The Lehigh trail will be built on land owned by Iola Industries, Inc., through an easement granted Sunflower Rail-Trails Conservancy, Inc., which owns Southwind Rail Trail. Southwind runs south from Iola to Humboldt atop the old Santa Fe Railroad right of way.

Toland pointed out the new trail pays homage to Allen County’s industrial past and specifically to the Lehigh Portland Cement Company, which purchased Iola Portland Cement in 1917 and operated a major plant in Iola until 1970.

The trail will begin next to Elm Creek Park South on South Washington Avenue and travel east along the south side of Elm Creek to the north side of Elks Lake, once Lehigh’s quarry. From there it will continue east and connect to 1600 Street (South Kentucky Street).

The surface will be about 12 feet wide and constructed of crushed limestone.

Start date of construction has yet to be determined.

Toland noted Thrive is one of 22 grantees in Kansas to receive Healthy Living grant funding, and was selected based in part on the progress that had been made in the county the past six years in developing facilities to increase the prevalence of physical activity among residents. He said Allen County’s health ranking had improved by 15 points since 2010, driven in large measure driven and nurtured by Thrive and its partners.

The new trail will be free to use and open to the public year round.

Thrive arranged a few weeks ago with Allen County commissioners to acquire and move the bridge, which resulted in anticipated savings in the construction contract, since the company that wins the bid won’t be obligated to remove it.

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