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Guest column/Bridge connects past, present, future

I am deeply concerned about what seems like a smear campaign and a slap in the face to the Friends of Beatty Park, which let’s not forget — is a small group of volunteers. We have worked almost three years on revitalizing the park to save a beautiful piece of Steubenville’s history. I know that a large swath of the community is tired of historic buildings, bridges and structures being neglected and/or torn down throughout our community.

You’d have to live under a rock to not see and read all over the newspapers and social media about how people feel about the lack of concern for preserving historical structures.

The park has lost its historic structures, piece by piece, and was neglected for nearly 30 years. Can we stand still and allow the historic bridge to be torn down and replaced or ignored to rot? Anyone can say “I care about history,” but it takes more than caring. A city that owns a historic park with historic structures owes it to its community to honor and care for those few pieces of history so that it can be enjoyed by future generations. That is what historic structures convey — their presence offers us a window into the past and is an important connection to the future.

A bridge to somewhere — what is beyond the bridge? A whopping one-third of a 99-acre park is beyond the closed bridge.

Nothing can be developed beyond the bridge until it is repaired. That matters to many people. There is an historic WPA shelter house that needs to be repaired with insurance funds. There is an historic old stone lodge that is estimated to have been built in 1870 or earlier that can be restored with private grant funding and used as an outdoor nature class and more. Plans for a 60-foot-by-6-foot walking bridge, that would bring all four of the trails in a loop together could be built. And let’s not forget to mention persons with disabilities who would like to drive farther in the park and who can’t walk far.

We have had people in wheelchairs, walkers and with canes who are unable to access one-third of the park. The park was never intended to be only a walking park. If so, our forefathers wouldn’t have built two beautiful strong sandstone bridges and a road. It is not merely a park with paths and trails and hasn’t been since before 1884.

Hundreds of park visitors have attended events in the park and have crossed that bridge throughout the past 225 years. We’ve had hundreds of visitors in the past three years alone. It does improve the city to have a park that is on the National Register of Historic Places, since 1986. This is an honor that most cities the size of Steubenville never receive.

The city funding to repair the bridge can be managed if grants and other funding is aggressively pursued. The cost of the bridge hasn’t even been decided on yet, so let’s not go throwing random figures out in hopes that they’ll stick.

It isn’t fair or realistic to compare the bridge to other projects that also need done in the city. Why is it an either-or? The city can upgrade its water and sewer systems and roads and still budget funds for parks and recreation to save the bridge, as well as other needs in other city parks. We know we don’t stand alone. We see the conditions in the other city parks, too, and we need to stand united. We can care about water, sewer, roads, parks and historic structures by supporting and funding them, fairly.

Saving and repairing this bridge is the definition of infrastructure improvements and should be considered a need. It is important to save and preserve a piece of history for future generations.

What is the repayment of such an investment? It is the only park in the city of Steubenville that provides an escape from the world and gives us a place to enjoy the beauty of nature.

(VerStraten-Merrin is chair of the Beatty Park Revitalization Project.)

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