By MARGIE TRAX PAGE
KINGSVILLE - - John Smolen's passion for covered bridges has become his legacy and Ashtabula County's claim to fame.
As the onetime county engineer, Smolen worked for years to restore and preserve the area's covered bridges. A new generation of covered bridges is born as work on the county's 17th covered bridge begins.
The bridge will be located on State Road, north of Route 46, east of Route 11 and south of Route 84.
The new bridge, which will be the longest covered bridge in the United States, should be completed for the 2008 Covered Bridge Festival, committee member and festival director Betty Morrison said.
"This bridge will be the fourth longest covered bridge in the world and will cement Ashtabula County's reputation as the covered bridge capitol of Ohio," she said.
The Harpersfield Covered Bridge, which spans 228 feet, will be eclipsed as the new bridge, which will cover 600 feet, is built.
The longest covered bridge in the United States is the Medora Covered Bridge in Vermont, which is 458 feet long.
Ashtabula County is known for wineries, Lake Erie and the covered bridges. Our bridges bring people and tourism dollars into the county and give this area personality and character," Morrison said.
The new structure will be built of four, 150-foot sections that will rest on concrete abutments and three concrete piers. The bridge will hover 75 feet over the Ashtabula River and be constructed three-foot-thick pieces of Douglas fir or yellow pine. The siding will be of hemlock or yellow poplar, Morrison said.
The bridge is federally funded with $7.8 million and will be handicapped-accessible, with an elevator for access to a second-story walkway.
Even before the bridge is built, it is already having an identity crisis. Ashtabula County's covered bridges are named for the roads they are on, but there is already a State Road Covered Bridge.
Morrison said though the county commissioners have the final naming rights to the new bridge, now known simply as Bridge Number 17, the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival Committee will make a strong suggestion.
"We very strongly feel that this bridge should be named for John Smolen, who has done so much for the county's covered bridges," Morrison said. "The Smolen name should be on this bridge," she said.
Star Beacon Print Edition: 10/16/2006
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