Pedestrian bridge will link Iola to its past and future

opinions

October 18, 2017 - 12:00 AM

Iola Council members should give a thumbs up to pursuing a pedestrian bridge over Elm Creek.
Four bids were submitted Monday, the lowest of which would put it at about $346,000 to build and install the iron truss bridge.
Of that sum, the city already has about $270,000, accrued by various grants secured primarily by Thrive Allen County.
So that leaves about $76,000, or about 22 percent of the total bill, outstanding.
For something that will mean so much to our community, the city should bite the bullet.
The initial investment will yield returns several times over by providing easy access to the Lehigh Portland Trails and beyond from South Washington Avenue.
As is, access to the increasingly popular trail system is a mishmash of spots known only to locals. By providing a straight shot along Washington, not only do the trails become more easily accessible but also the Elm Creek disc golf course in the 1000 block will become more familiar as well as what is referred to as Elm Creek Park South, a lovely spot on the south side of the creek.

THE TRAILS help tell the story of Iola’s industrial past, present and future.
When Lehigh Portland Cement first opened in 1900, that side of town became an entity unto itself, with its incorporated burg of Bassett and Lake Bassola. The plant was equipped with two massive bathhouses, perhaps not equal to the comforts of home, but an important amenity to the hundreds of workers who at that time may not have had indoor plumbing.
When the zinc smelters closed in the early part of the 1900s, Lehigh was Iola’s primary industry until well after World War II.
Unwilling to keep the plant up to snuff, its parent company, the eponymous Lehigh Portland Cement of Allentown, Pa., closed the Iola plant in 1970.
Iola Industries purchased the vast acreage for $275,000 and was able to get $100,000 from the sale of its assets — boilers, kilns, and the like.
With Lehigh mothballed,  the Washington Street Bridge that linked Bassett and Iola was left to fall into disrepair. City officials closed the bridge in 1978, saying they would seek federal funds for its repair. Instead, it stood as an eyesore for almost another 20 years, being demolished in early 1996.
It wasn’t until 1982 that the Elks signed a lease with Iola Industries to use the former 120-acre quarry for recreational purposes.
The beauty of letting the majority of the property sit idle all those ensuing years is that stands of trees and streams of clear water now dot the once-ravaged landscape.
Truly, it’s a sight to behold and invites all kinds of possibilities.

THE PEDESTRIAN bridge will help build Iola’s reputation as a destination for outdoor activities such as biking, walking and exploring. It shows we care about the quality of life. Some would say that’s an intangible, but when prospective industries are considering their options, such things can make the difference.
We should do everything we can to lead the way to a healthy and more prosperous future. The bridge is a step in the right direction.

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