High bridge restoration wins award for county

Sanders County Ledger

When Montana Senator Jon Tester comes to Sanders County this week to hold a round table discussion on the economy, he’ll have a chance to see the results of an award-winning federal stimulus project.

Tester and others will take a walking tour of the rehabilitated High Bridge, the former transportation link to Thompson Falls from south of the river which has been resurrected into an attractive and popular hike and bike link.

Recently, the Sanders County Commissioners and the High Bridge Committee were selected by the Montana Preservation Alliance to receive one of the 2010 Excellence in Historic Preservation Awards for their effort to restore the remarkable structure.

According to the award the groups were selected for their “amazing efforts to restore and re-open the historic High Bridge.”  Three members of the committee, Tim Harian, Katy Walton and Jean Polequaptewa, along with Carol Brooker, Commission Chair, made the trek to Helena Sept. 29 to accept the award.  A reception and ceremony was attended by 100 or so MPA volunteers/members and other honored guests and held at the Montana Club in Helena.

 The Montana Preservation Alliance (MPA) saves and protects Montana’s historic places, traditional landscapes, and cultural heritage.  They are the only statewide, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing Montanans with the resources necessary to preserve our state’s unique history and culture.

Each year, the MPA honors those people who have made a difference to our state’s heritage.  They recognized the committee and commissioners’ “efforts to raise funds and restore the bridge for pedestrians and bicycle use as a model for how a community can come together to save a beloved landmark.  In addition, the Thompson Falls Bridge is one of only a few high bridges ever built in the state, and your dedication to preserve it has saved a rare engineering structure.”

There were six projects or groups statewide receiving excellence awards at this year’s banquet. The High Bridge received the Outstanding Local Preservation Project award.

Also, attending the award reception was Jim Scoles and Bob Glassen of Morrison-Maierle Inc., the engineering firm which designed the project for the county.

The project costs were met with Community Transportation Enhancement Project funds received by the county, individual and corporate donations and a special federal stimulus project appropriation which was stewarded through Congress by Tester.

Construction was completed this year and formally dedicated this summer.

Bridge watchers said the span has seen an increasing amount of traffic since its opening including several who regularly walk or bike to work from across the river.

The high bridge was the main link to the south side of the river until the 1970s when it was barricaded and condemned from further vehicle traffic due to a deteriorating condition.  It was originally kept open for pedestrian traffic but that too was eventually stopped.  The bridge sits about 100 feet above the Clark Fork River and is one of the last remaining examples of a steel truss bridge with the trusses below the span.