LOUDONVILLE -- Jim South could hardly believe his eyes. Standing on the northern bank of the Mohican River, he looked up at the brand new footbridge and began to reminisce.
The dedication of the new suspension footbridge at Mohican State Park brought back memories of childhood adventures for many of the area’s seasoned hikers. The new bridge resembles an older model that once sat a short distance downstream.
South was around 10 years old when he crossed the old footbridge during a hike with his Boy Scout troop.
“All the boards were gone in the center. All there was were two cables on the side. So we jumped on the senior scout’s backs and they straddled the cables and crossed,” he recalled.
That bridge, located just downstream from the new one, was dismantled due to flood damage in 1969. More than 50 years later, it’s finally been replaced.
“It's kind of unbelievable. I never dreamed it was ever going to happen,” South said. “To see it actually crossing the river there -- I’m just still having trouble believing it.”
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the new suspension footbridge is located about a mile from the state park campground and spans 120 feet in length. It connects the Hemlock Gorge and Gorge Overlook trails on either side of the Clear Fork State Scenic River, a tributary of the Mohican River.
GALLERY: Clear Fork Gorge Overlook Trail
The Gorge Overlook Trail is a 1.3 mile loop on the south side of the Mohican River's Clear Fork tributary. The trail begins and ends near the gorge overlook point.
The Gorge Overlook Trail, located on the south side of the tributary, was created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. After the old footbridge came down, the trail was inaccessible to most of the park and fell into disrepair. A volunteer group known as the Mohican Trails Club began its restoration of the trail in 2018.
“They've done incredible work out here. This is a group of volunteers that’s out here all the time, maintaining trails, building trails, keeping them in great shape,” said Mary Mertz, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The project took nearly 2 1/2 years to complete, but former park manager Josh Gardner said it was a crucial part of the bridge project.
“We weren't going to build this bridge if there was nowhere to go. So to reestablish this other trail, that was a really key part of it,” Gardner said.
Replacing the bridge had been a longtime dream for Gardner, who worked at the park until late last year.
“I started here in 2004 as a park ranger,” Gardner said. “Every year people would come up to me and say, ‘I remember hiking the old swinging bridge.’ So it always is in the back of my head -- it would be cool to do another one like that.”
Design planning for the bridge started in June 2020. Mertz said the project took a tremendous amount of consultation, permitting and working with engineers to ensure the bridge didn’t harm the river.
“This is a scenic river so there are a lot of restrictions on how you can build and where you can build so that we don't damage the integrity of the water,” she explained. “We're a conservation agency but we want to connect people with nature. So we want to make it accessible, but we don't want to destroy it.”
The park also had to widen the Hemlock Trail along the northern side of the river in order to get construction equipment to the site.
South, who serves as treasurer of the Mohican Trails Club, believes it was well worth the effort to connect the Mohican campsite with the scenic overlook on the south side of the river.
“That’s one of the best parts of this area -- All the wilderness is interconnected here," he said. "This makes it easier to access different parts of the park.”
The Gorge Overlook Trail is a strenuous but scenic trek that loops from the top of the Clear Fork Gorge to the bottom and back up again. A 1.3-mile loop is not for the faint of heart, but the view from the top of the 300-foot gorge is impressive.
"The bridge links people to one of the most commanding views Ohio has to offer," Mertz said. "I am excited to see the memories people share on the bridge and at the overlook for years to come."