‘Save Red Bridge’

If you ask Joe Otto, “nothing says fair float like a freshly painted hay rack.” He and 15 volunteers built a float to carry them and an idea through the July 17 Jasper County Fair Parade. The message was simple — Save Red Bridge.

The Colfax resident and University of Oklahoma PhD candidate in history has been on a quest since returning to Jasper County to save the historic Red Bridge near Reasnor from crumbing into the river below and move it to Quarry Springs Park in Colfax.

In interviews with Newton Daily News and other county papers, Otto has explained his affinity for Red Bridge. He shared an extended version of his most recent email conversation with Hometown Press, where Otto said he wants to save the bridge “because Iowa has so little of its history left.”

“Iowans love a good bridge,” Otto wrote. “They are places of refuge. When you grow up in a small town, be it Prairie City, Monroe, Colfax, Mingo or Reasnor, you have to make your own fun. Iowa lacks the vast public space that others states have, so young people can’t just go to the nearest national park or forest. Instead they go to the ‘trestle’ by Metz or one of the old truss bridges. Since picking up this project, countless people have told me of strong personal memories of Red Bridge. That they used to go fishing down there with their dad, or floated the Skunk on a hot summer day, or camped out on a sandbar on a Friday night after a football game, or taken their high school sweetheart down there on a date.”

Efforts over the years to save the crumbling Red Bridge, which was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1998, have not made traction. But the Save Red Bridge campaign has rapidly been gaining steam in the last six months.

Otto and volunteers at Quarry Springs Park in Colfax want to move Red Bridge from its 125-year home near Reasnor to the 480-acre park off Interstate 80 and Highway 117.

Following a letter writing campaign which received hundreds of supportive corespondents, the Jasper County Board of Supervisors agreed in June to support Otto’s efforts and directed the county engineer to assist in preservation planning. Otto said, in all, 578 citizens countywide are taking action.

An Iowa National Guard representative also visited the site in June. The Guard is supportive of moving the bridge to Colfax by helicopter.  Otto said this was previously done in Jones County in 2006 when Hale Bridge, which crosses the Wapsipinicon, was moved to a state park.

Jasper County Engineer’s office also recently determined the bridge’s pony truss can be moved with a Chinook helicopter, but the main span is too heavy and will be moved overland by truck.

This bridge is not only a historic site, but giving the structure new purpose at Quarry Springs Park could be a boon to Colfax and Jasper County. Both Red Bridge and Quarry Springs are county amenities, and the visibility of relocating and restoring the historic bridge could help the park become a statewide destination.

Pledging to give support and offering guidance is a good first step, and at least one Jasper County supervisor has visited the site, but we urge the county’s elected leaders to offer the Save Red Bridge campaign their full support. Providing the group assistance to secure grant and other funding sources would ensure the volunteers’ success.

Otto and his team are not out to strut and are bracing for any obstacle in their way. They’re taking on their vision one plank at a time, and anyone passionate about preserving Jasper County and Iowa’s history should consider volunteering their support.

To find you how you can help these volunteers save Red Bridge visit the Facebook page Citizens in Support of Restoration and Preservation of Red Bridge or email SaveRedBridge@gmail.com.