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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Historic bridge awaits restoration, seeks monetary support through Pepsi Challenge

Fourteen miles from Grinnell, on the border of Poweshiek and Mahaska Counties, lays a bowstring bridge, patiently hoping for restoration against unlikely odds. The McIntyre Bridge, built in 1883, has long provided access to the Millgrove Access Wildlife Area, a vast expanse of prairie and wildlife habitat near New Sharon, IA. For the past two years, Grinnell College alumna Julie Bowers ’80 has spearheaded the battle to bring back this bridge.

The McIntyre Bridge construction project had to be tabled after the County Conservation Board decided not to allocate further resources to fix the bridge after its collapse in 2009. Bower then formed the North Skunk River Greenbelt Association (NSRGA), currently working as Executive Director, in order to raise the necessary funds to restore the bridge.

Recently, however, Bowers entered in the Pepsi Refresh Everything Challenge, a voting grant that could provide $50,000 in funding. The bridge will cost $75,000 to fix and an additional $40,000 to reset.

With the slogan, “You Can Help Get It Up & Get It Over,” Bowers’ campaign for The Pepsi Challenge asks supporters to help fund the historic restoration of the McIntyre Bridge by voting daily throughout the month of November.

“It’s been almost two years and it’s tough to find funding in this economic climate,” Bowers said. “There is a lot of competition for everything, even for Grinnell College mini-grants, if you’re not dealing with social justice. We can’t all [work for social justice]. Sometimes you just have to save bridges.”

The bridge, as well as the park that it provides access to, is located in a historically significant part of Poweshiek County. Before the train routes came through Iowa, transplanting Grinnell College from its former home in Davenport, Poweshiek County’s population was collected in a couple towns with a mill located not far along the river that runs underneath the McIntyre Bridge.

“Poweshiek County didn’t start in Grinnell,” Bowers said.

Originally, local stories recount that the park by the McIntyre Bridge was in fact Chief Poweshiek’s summer hunting and fishing grounds.

“There might be mounds out there somewhere, but it’s really just a hidden, untouched part of the county,” Bowers added. The Millgrove Wildlife Access Area is great for hiking, hunting and, in high water, canoeing.

Unfortunately, the main access to the park is across the McIntyre Bridge, and without a grant, Bowers’ non-profit organization NSRGA cannot afford to fix it.

Bowers’s family has visited the bridge since they settled in Poweshiek County in the 1850s, so when Bowers heard about the bridge’s plight in 2009 (when the county decided to take it off the Register of Historic Places) she took immediate action to request and receive a moratorium on the bridge’s demolition.

Although Bowers managed to form NSRGA over the next three months in 2009 in order to gain ownership of the bridge, a missing signature prevented them from lifting it in the spring of 2010, and, as Bowers put it, “the water came up.”

“It had to be done in that one week when it’s not really cold, but it’s still frozen and hovering in the high twenties and it’s good to work outside,” Bowers said. “We could have gotten in there, but four days later it was melting.” Before they could get everything done, the bridge fell down.

From donations, the Association scraped together enough to pull the bridge out of the river and send it to expert iron welders in Michigan. “That’s where we stand now, but with no funding,” Bowers said.

While the McIntyre Bridge went through the preservation process, Bowers formed part of her non-profit into another group called Working Bridges, which travels the country to consult with groups, counties and communities on ways that they can save their bridges through means such as writing grants.

“We were instrumental in getting the team from Michigan to do a restoration project in Texas, near Shulenburg, and I’ve been given the rights to document that restoration,” Bowers said. She plans to head to Texas after Thanksgiving to create a documentary on the lift and restoration of the 79 foot Pratt Trust Bridgein the area.

“I think we have a great story,” Bowers said, “because we have the history of the locale, we have the local people, in this case there’s a white hat, white suit judge who wants this bridge fixed, and there are engineers that want to talk about why they made these decisions and I want to get that story out to Iowa where they’ve been told they can tear down almost all of the bridges.”

In Poweshiek County, however, Bowers is calling on Grinnellians to support the McIntyre Bridge by voting online at http://www.refresheverything.com/historictrussbridge# using your facebook login as an account to vote, as well as through text messaging 109732 to Pepsi (73774).

“We’re currently ranked 162 out of something, so we really need Grinnell College support,” Bowers said.

With Grinnellians’ support, Bowers hopes to bring back the bridge for everyone to enjoy.

“It’s fabulous out there,” Bowers said. “It’s beautiful. It’s kind of a magical spot.”

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