The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

September 5, 2013

Ashtabula County's covered bridges buck bad trend

Vandals avoiding area’s spans, unlike rest of Ohio

Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — Covered bridges in Ashtabula County have so far been spared the damage being inflicted on other bridges across Ohio, local officials said.

The Associated Press, with the help of the Columbus Dispatch, recently reported that vandals and arsonists are taking a toll on the state’s inventory of the unique bridges. About 145 covered bridges remain in Ohio, 18 of them in Ashtabula County, officials said. Ohio ranks second behind Pennsylvania’s 200-plus bridges, according to the Ohio Historic Bridge Association.

So far this year, century-old bridges in Vinton and Fairfield counties have been badly damaged or destroyed by vandals, according to the AP. The Fairfield bridge was repaired and reopened to the public.

Covered bridges are usually found in remote locations, which can offer cover to the criminals.

Happily, Ashtabula County’s many bridges have been spared heavy, costly damage, officials said.

“We haven’t had any major problems,” said Sheriff William Johnson. “And we’re all hoping nobody does anything. It’s such a stupid crime.”

Amir Garakouei, county highway superintendent, said he hasn’t noticed any uptick in damage. “Nothing more than it’s always been,” he said.

When troublemakers do strike, bridges in the southern part of the county seem to be the target more than those closer to Lake Erie, Garakouei said.

“We’ve had to repaint the (Windsor Mills) bridge twice,” he said. “It takes awhile to scrub them.”

Many of the bridges are also fitted with fire alarms and smoke detectors. Garakouei said.

Connie Bayt, director of the county’s Covered Bridge Festival, said the county does a good job of addressing graffiti when it occurs. “They’re painted and cleaned up,” she said.

“We haven’t had any calls from anyone (regarding damage),” Bayt said. “No more than the usual. We’ve been very lucky.”

Covered bridges haven’t seen any significant scuffing since September 2011, when a daredevil dangled about 90 feet above the Ashtabula River to paint symbols on one of the piers supporting the Smolen-Gulf Bridge, the nation’s longest.

Committee members are hoping the bridges remain in good shape as they continue preparations for next month’s festival in Jefferson. The event celebrates its 30th birthday on Oct. 12-13 at the county fairgrounds in Jefferson.

“We’re so excited this year,” Bayt said. “We’ve got lots of things planned for kids and adults.”