Bridge 227W: The Bridges that Leads to Nowhere

Not far from downtown Spruce Pine, across highway 19E near the hospital and up Altapass Road, you’ll see the remnants of Bridge 227W—the footbridge closed by the DOT for safety reasons. It’s not easy to spot, though you can scan the left side of the road and the far bank of the North Toe River in search of a bulldozed hillside. Slow down enough, and you’ll see a gravel turnaround with a 8’ tall chain-link fence, a strong stand of barbed wire along the top edge.

As if the high security weren’t daunting enough, the fence encompasses nothing, an awkward omen at the entrance of the footbridge that leads to nowhere. An initial visit to this site showed the steps still in place. No more than a few weeks later, Shane and I find three of the steps missing or trampled and the carcass of a dead dog near the entrance to 227W.

Carefully, we make our way onto the walkway of the footbridge, hoisting ourselves up and listening for any sound that might give an excuse to turn back. The walkway itself is also in poor shape, with missing planks and upturned nails. We move slowly, the dark green river visible through the gaping holes.

There is no bounce and step on this bridge, no reverb of life coming back to us as we inch ourselves across. It creaks in all the wrong tones, the metal straining against our weight. We hardly dare to look up, but a quick glance reveals a bulldozed hillside, all the orange and mud-brown guts of the earth cooking in the late afternoon heat. A few hefty bulldozers are parked in no particular arrangement, their only company half a dozen cows. It’s an odd pairing without a worker to man the machines or a blade of grass in sight for the cows.

We caution a few more steps and look again at the river. We’ve barely made it halfway across. The bridge creaks and sways, creaks and sways. It feels like some horrible defeat, a no man’s land of desolation on one side and death on the other. Without saying much, we turn around and leave as quietly and carefully as we came.

Not too far down the road, we pull over to explore an abandoned mill. The light is glorious in contrast with the grey, worn wood of the old building. Missing or broken boards allow for a crystal clear view of the sky as we climb the first set of stairs slowly. With each step we dislodge a handful of hulled acorn and buckeye, the squirrels and mice having long since claimed this as their fortress. The higher we climb, the further each nutshell falls until a soft ping ping echoes throughout the mill with each step we take.

We climb the next set of stairs with held breath, one a time. We’re inside a piece of history, something sad and left behind. Yet between every slat of wood, a golden line of light creeps through. Shane hefts himself to the top platform and peers up at the tip of the grain elevator [?], an ancient rusty arm reaching toward the sky. He lifts his head into the light and reaches for his camera—but I wish I had my own, this image of redemption the perfect summary of our strange and ominous day.

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