The Lynchburg Garden Club
A Conservation Success Story
Removal of a Derelict Iron Bridge from the James River 2008-2012
In 2008, the Lynchburg Garden Club took on the difficult task of pursuing the removal of a huge iron vehicular bridge from the James River just below Riverside Park. The bridge, erected in 1912, had connected Riverside Park to Treasure Island but was swept loose and into the river by a flood in 1985. It then remained in the river, rusting and collecting debris, for a quarter of a century. Though long forgotten by many, it was an eyesore and a hazard to anyone using the James River. From a conservation standpoint, it was a nightmare and it made the stretch of the James River near Lynchburg a disgrace.
Over the course of four years, dozens of letters and emails were written and countless phone calls were made to Lynchburg City Council members, city officials, Liberty University (the owner of the bridge), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the James River Association, the Greater Lynchburg Environmental Network, the Southern Environmental Law Center, Norfolk Southern Corporation, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, state delegates and senators and numerous other state agencies and officials. Lynchburg Garden Club members also made visits to the City Manager, the City Attorney and City Council members.
Multiple strategies and scenarios to remove the bridge were considered. One of the main obstacles to the removal of the bridge was the lack of access. Large, tangled trees and thick vegetation lined the banks of the river and an active Norfolk Southern railroad track runs along the river. There really wasn’t a good way to get in to remove the bridge, plus at least half of the bridge had sunken down into the river sediment, leaving only a portion exposed. There was talk of having the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bring in a crew with a helicopter to lift sections onto a flatbed train car that would be parked on the tracks beside the river. Another option was sending in a barge with cranes on it to lift the bridge from the river. It was estimated that it would take about $300,000 to remove the bridge, but it wasn’t just the money--it seemed like it would be too difficult and dangerous for anyone to tackle.
The Lynchburg Garden Club almost gave up. But, in 2011, an unrelated news story appeared in the paper stating that engineers who had been hired to complete the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project in Lynchburg had cleared trees and vegetation and built a temporary access road between the James River and the railroad tracks all the way up to Riverside Park so they could lay some pipe. The Lynchburg Garden Club recognized that suddenly there was access to the bridge, yet there would be a short window of time to get to it as the temporary road was not going to be maintained and the vegetation would grow back quickly after the CSO pipe was laid.
So, the Lynchburg Garden Club got back to work writing and calling city and state officials to push for the hasty removal of the bridge. The final push paid off and the City announced that it had worked out an agreement with Liberty University to remove the bridge. It was wonderful news for our garden club and for all of the citizens of Lynchburg that the river would be cleared of a major eyesore and hazard. We received an email from one city council member thanking us for, “kicking it off.” Another city council member, remarked, “You did it!”
Below is an article that appeared in the Liberty University news about the removal of the bridge. The Lynchburg Garden Club’s efforts are not mentioned, but its many years of hard work precipitated the final result and it represents a major conservation success story for our Club, for Liberty University and for Lynchburg.
Liberty removes old bridge from river near Treasure Island
September 25, 2012 : By Mitzi Bible/Liberty University News Service
Liberty University is responding to concerns near its Treasure Island property on the James River by removing the old bridge that was once the main access from the city to the 28-acre island.
The bridge, a steel structure with a wooden deck that crossed the river from a road off Rivermont Avenue, was washed out by a flood in 1985.
City councilman Turner Perrow said he shared some constituents’ concerns about the bridge with Liberty and the school immediately took action.
“I am excited about yet another example of how Liberty is partnering with the community to do something that’s going to benefit the City of Lynchburg,” he said.
Pat Calvert, Upper James Riverkeeper with the James River Association, agreed it is a “great gesture” on Liberty’s part to take care of not only an eyesore, but a navigational hazard, and to preserve the history of the area.
“We applaud LU for making the decision to do it. It’s not a cheap thing to have to do, but it’s for the betterment of the river and the community as a whole. I think it’s an appropriate response and a very welcome response, and I hope the community sees that,” he said.
The work will take up to four weeks to complete, as the bridge must first be cut apart in sections, loaded on a barge, and taken around the island to Liberty’s property on the Amherst County side of the river where a crane will lift it out.
"We are being a good neighbor and we are doing this right," said Lee Beaumont, Liberty's vice president of auxiliary services.
The island was purchased in 1962 and was first used as a youth camp, where thousands of Central Virginia youth were led to Christ. Early classes of Liberty students lived on the island and it was also used as a practice field for the football team.
Liberty also owns nearby Daniels Island, making its total island property in the James 81 acres.
The university is pursuing options for new access to the islands, which could lead to revitalization of the property and eventually create more recreational uses along this section of the James River. It is considering a possible partnership with the city to rebuild the bridge connecting Treasure Island to Riverside Park and create athletics fields on the islands that could be open for public use.
Here is a photo of the bridge in use before it was swept away.
Here is a photo of the river today, in September 2016, showing pristine waters and the trees and brush that have grown back along its banks.
Here is a photo of the bridge lying in the river after the flood.
Here is a photo showing the derelict bridge beside the temporary access road.
Liberty removes old bridge from river near Treasure Island. September 25, 2012: By Mitzi Bible/Liberty University News Serviceage.