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Foot bridge over Hay Creek in southern Berks finally opens

After 15 years of persistence, hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless volunteer hours, Ted Coffelt raised his voice in triumph.

“We got a bridge here,” said an ecstatic Coffelt, president of the Hay Creek Watershed Association, to a crowd of trail enthusiasts, environmental stewards and public officials Monday.

They were gathered to formally open the pedestrian bridge over the Hay Creek.

The bridge provides access to the 1,800-acre Birdsboro Waters Preserve from Rustic Park in Robeson Township, not far from Birdsboro’s southern edge. The foot bridge  provides easier access to recreational trails, climbing areas, birding and trout fishing in the preserve.

No sooner had Coffelt declared victory than he set a new goal.

“We just need to get a second bridge now,” he told the crowd.

The new 6-foot-wide, ADA-accessible pedestrian bridge is the first of two bridges required to increase access to Birdsboro Waters, a popular recreation space.

The bridge helps create an important link in the larger, regional trail system and engages the community in responsible appreciation of a critically important ecosystem, advocates said.

The second bridge will likely cost at least $250,000, according to Coffelt, perhaps more since it is deeper in the preserve and it will be tricky to get a crane in to place the span.

He expects it to take two years to get funding and permits to finish that project.

The new foot bridge from Rustic Park cost about $280,000.

In addition to in-kind donations and funding from local community members and businesses, the bridge project received grants from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation; Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund; and Commonwealth Financing Authority through the Greenways, Trails and Recreation Program.

Some of the in-kind donations included contributions of engineers and surveyors.

In his brief speech, Coffelt thanked everyone he could think of who had been involved in the project from a Facebook group that raised a few hundred dollars to the Birdsboro Women’s Club to Haines and Kibblehouse, a construction company that almost donated steel beams. Haines and Kibblehouse was unable to donate beams but its crane did set the bridge.

Best of all, Coffelt said, “We came in under budget.”

“It’s been such a long long journey,” said state Sen. Judy Schwank, who recalled walking the area with former Berks County Parks and Recreation Director Bill Semmel after the bridge had been washed out.

Flood of memories

Three original bridges that crossed Hay Creek were wiped out in a flood Sept. 8, 1987. The flood was the remnants of tropical depression 9, a storm system that never was strong enough to become a named tropical system.

It wrung itself out over Berks County and southeastern Pennsylvania, officially dropping 6.25 inches of rain on Berks in the fourth-wettest day on record. Local amounts were higher.

In 1987, the state closed about 2 miles of Route 82 in Robeson Township after the flood washed out part of the road and weakened the three bridges over Hay Creek.

Since then, people have used the closed part of the road for jogging, horseback riding and dog walking.

There are no plans to repair and reopen Route 82.

The Hay Creek Watershed Association has been seeking to protect the creek since the early 1990s, said Kim Murphy, president of Berks Nature, which now oversees the watershed association and facilitated the project. 

Birdsboro Waters was permanently preserved in 2007 through the conservation easement held by the state and purchased from the Birdsboro Municipal Authority using contributions from multiple public and nonprofit funding partners.

That same year the state abandoned 2 miles of Route 82, which divides the preserved area with a section to the west and one to the east.

At the heart of the preserve flows the Hay Creek.

“The Hay Creek is a special asset in Berks County,” Murphy said. “This gem travels across Robeson and Union townships before it reaches us here in the park. And, then makes its way to the Schuylkill River a short distance from here.”

She said the Hay Creek Watershed is mostly forested, and the landscape includes Exceptional Value waters; important Class A trout streams; a designated Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society; many recreational opportunities; and is part of the cherished Hopewell Big Woods and the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape Initiative.

The preserve offers miles of walking and mountain biking trails, including the well-traveled Horseshoe Trail. The preserve’s rock climbing is regionally renown, attracting visitors from Philadelphia, Baltimore and even Washington.

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Source: Berkshire mont

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