Officials mulling future of Hune Covered Bridge

Mike Webber, secretary of the Frontier Local Economic Development Association, looks over the now-closed Hune Covered Bridge in Lawrence Township. The bridge will be discussed Tuesday at the association’s community meeting. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

MARIETTA — The Hune Covered Bridge, built in 1878 and an historic asset of Washington County, is again closed to traffic.

A creeping landslip on the southeastern bank of the Little Muskingum River developed between Jan. 5 and 6, following wet weather. The slip this past week affected the road from the Duff Road approach to the bridge.

“We had to make the conservative determination pretty quickly because of the slip,” said Washington County Engineer Roger Wright.

County representatives met with a state expert on covered bridges to determine short- and long-term options there, he said.

On Jan. 7, the bridge was closed to all vehicular traffic, with metal barricades blocking passage. The Bell Covered Bridge in Barlow is now the only covered span in the county where traffic is allowed.

Joe Finley, of Belpre, launches his kayak for fishing in the Little Muskingum River Wednesday, across the river from where a landslip has closed all access to the Hune Covered Bridge. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“My ultimate goal is to not only preserve them but get them off of the traffic system,” said Wright. “Plans are already underway to bypass the Bell bridge with federal funding in fiscal year 2022.”

Last year, Wright approached the Frontier Local Economic Development Association to begin planning for the retirement of the Hune Bridge from vehicular traffic.

“But when we talked, it was opening that discussion for action maybe in five to 10 years,” he said. “Now that may be expedited. We don’t have a timeline or cost estimates yet, but we need to talk.”

Association Secretary Mike Webber visited the bridge Wednesday, admiring the sandstone piers, but sharing the concerns of a quick loss of ground at the Duff Road approach to the bridge on the southeastern side of the Little Muskingum River.

The covered bridge is among crossings available to Lawrence Township property owners over the Little Muskingum River. The last significant repairs were in 2007.

The Hune Covered Bridge was closed last week due to a landslip on the southeastern approach. The bridge will be visited by experts and county officials to plan a short and long-term solution. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Upriver there’s Scottown Road, while downriver the next nearest crossing is at Elk Run Road.

“It was (the association) back around 2003 that drove saving the Rinard Covered Bridge, preserving the landmark but getting traffic off of it, and I think we’d like to do that again with this,” said Webber. “But where to put it and how to preserve access to the campgrounds with the Wayne National Forest also needs to be discussed.”

For property owners on the eastern side of the river, the closure ranges from slightly inconvenient to worrisome.

“I last traveled up there on Jan. 4 and 5 since it’s our most convenient route to the cabin and barn my family has on about 45 acres there,” said Beau Cross, a local attorney. “But it’s a recreational spot for us, so the closure means an extra 10 minutes of travel, but I’d rather that than end up in the river with a collapsed bridge.”

But for the Kiggins family, emergency response and inclement weather are of great concern.

Joe Finley, 66, of Belpre, kicks off the northwestern bank of the Little Muskingum River below the closed Hune Covered Bridge in Lawrence Township, across from a landslip which puts the historic structure at risk. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“We take care of my husband’s mother, I’m not in particularly great health–10 minutes is more than just slightly inconvenient,” said Christina Kiggins, 52, who lives on the eastern side of the bridge, on Duff Road with her husband Randy.

She said flooding, snow and taking back roads up steep hills could landlock the couple this winter.

“I’ve watched and taken video of the land shifting though. I understand but I just don’t want this to be a reason we’re forgotten in road maintenance from the township,” she said.

Kiggins and Wright said they plan to attend the association meeting on Tuesday.

“It is a gravity pier, and if the stones start to loosen, we could lose the whole structure,” said Wright. “So I’ll be looking at what we can do to shore up that bank, but won’t have a timeline yet. But I’ll try to be there at the FLEDA meeting to answer what questions I can.”

Wright said he’ll be researching potential tourism and emergency funding to secure the bridge.

The association meets six times a year, Webber said. It’s next meeting is open to the public 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Newport Elementary School.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.