A Call From the Chairman on the Shallowford Bridge

We had a very cold snap earlier this week, with morning temperatures as low as 18. Today, we’re back to more seasonal temperatures and rain. I think I’m speaking for just about everyone in saying that we’re tired of the rain. As an outdoorsman, I like to take the attitude that it’s always beautiful outdoors, but it’s beginning to get me down a bit, which means that it must really be getting bad.

In spite of the cold snap, spring seems to be progressing nicely. You can smell the earth now, and things have greened up. That awful Bradford pear has bloomed, along with some forsythia and daffodils. And I finally saw a Greater White-Fronted Goose on the edge of a flock of Canadas in a pasture yesterday.

I had a telephone message from our county chairman, Stan Helton, the other day. He said that he’d read my column on the Shallowford Bridge, and invited me to call him back for a chat. I did so with some misgivings. Usually, when people call me about my columns, I’ve screwed something up. Well, that wasn’t the case this time. It turned out that he just wanted to share some memories and observations about the bridge.

He started out by saying that enjoys reading my columns, although he imagines that we are at different ends of the political spectrum, because he is a conservative Republican. (I’m not sure that’s really true, because when you’re trained as a philosopher, it’s kind of hard to identify with either party. And I agreed with my old dad on a lot of things, and he was a self-described “Old Guard Republican.”) But he went on to say that he was a Fannin County native, and that his family was very active in the Republican party. I believe he said that when he was too young to be interested in politics, he looked forward to the meetings, because the whole family would go, and it was the only time he had the house to himself.

In any case, the year he graduated from high school (1972) was an election year, and there were jobs to be had if you were old enough to vote and willing to vote the right way. So he and about 35 other guys got summer jobs, and he spent the summer scraping and sanding the Shallowford Bridge, dodging wasps and yellow jackets, to prepare it for painting. So when the subject came up with the DOT in Cartersville of taking the bridge down, he had some second thoughts about it, especially since we’ve lost our other iron bridges. (The one left at Hogback is a railroad bridge, if I recall correctly.)

Especially since the bridge is 100 years old, it seemed to Mr. Helton that it might be good to look into saving it, as it is a local landmark. But there’s no question that it needs replacing, because with a load limit of 7 tons, it is impassible to school busses and there’s no question of sending a fire truck over it. And … it’s a long way around. You’d have to go in on either end of Old Dial Road, either from Dial or Morganton, and both are mostly forest service road.

In looking at the alternatives, GDOT ruled out a bridge upstream from the present bridge, due to cost considerations. I imagine it might also involve difficulties with the Forest Service, because upstream past the cabins, most of the land is theirs. They wanted to take down the bridge when they built the new one, but when they found out that it would cost about as much to take it down and haul it away as to build a new one, the idea of saving it began to gain some traction.

Mr. Helton acknowledged that difficulties remain, even in keeping it as a pedestrian bridge and landmark, and that there’s some potential cost involved. But he’s pleased that we have a three or four year window to see if we can save it, a decision that he realizes may be made by a different administration.

And, he’s well aware that people are upset about the downstream alternative – supposedly about 150 feet downstream of the existing bridge – because of the effect it will have on the cabins across the river and possibly on the businesses in the area.

We closed the conversation out by lamenting the fact that Fannin has a beautiful river, but not enough public access to it. I hope not only that we can save the bridge, but that, in the course of that conversation, the question of providing more public access can be considered as well.

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