Troubled bridge over Byram waters
BYRAM -- For more than eighty years, the Cranberry Lake footbridge has stood as a living monument to the memory of a thousand perfect summer days. Its history is a fascinating one, rife with stories of forgotten amusement parks, defunct railroads and tales from a vacationland that has long-since ceased to exist.Now, however, despite its storied past, the future of the iconic suspension footbridge over the lake seems to hang in the balance."We started Save Our Bridge in the spring of 2018 because we realized that it was our responsibility to make sure that this structure would be preserved for generations to come," said Mary Seage, president of the Cranberry Lake Community Club and founder of Save Our Bridge, a new 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the restoration and continued sustainability of the bridge."The bridge is in dire need of repairs at the moment, and if we aren't careful, we could lose it," Seage said.A 2016 engineering report from Genesis Engineering found that repairs to the bridge could run upwards of $290,000."And that's only for the towers, cables and walkway," Seage said. "We would need additional funds to repair the bridge's concrete piers."Though the bridge, which is owned by the state Department of Environmental Protection and leased each year by the club, has not passed state inspection since 2002, Seage said, local residents continue to use it daily."The last report that we got from the state engineer was in 2017," Seage said. "At that point, we were told that the bridge can only support up to four people at a time, and then only if they were walking instead of standing still. There is a lot of work to be done."In order to restore the bridge to its former glory, Seage said, Save Our Bridge plans to work closely with state and local officials to identify resources and secure funding for the restoration project.The suspension bridge as it stands today was erected between September and December 1930, a Depression-era project that would eventually become one of the longest and oldest pedestrian suspension bridges in New Jersey."The bridge that is there now is actually the third bridge that was built in that location," said Wayne McCabe, president of the Sussex County Historical Society. The first bridge, he said, was a simple wooden structure erected by the Lackawanna Railroad in 1902 that allowed passengers to disembark from the Cranberry Lake train station and head across the lake to the miniature railroad and amusement park in Frenche's Grove."The railroad lost interest in the amusement park after about 10 years, so they didn't see any reason to keep the bridge there any longer," McCabe said. "They hitched the bridge to a locomotive with a long chain, sent the train heading down the tracks and watched as the bridge collapsed into the lake."By the 1920s, Seage said, the Cranberry Lake Development Company began to lay plans for a residential community on the far side of the lake. A new bridge, designed to provide access to first set of lakefront cabins, was built by the development company in 1925.Finally, in 1930, the state of New Jersey ordered that a more permanent suspension bridge be built of concrete, steel and wood."You would be hard pressed to find another suspended pedestrian footbridge like the one in Cranberry Lake anywhere in the state," McCabe said. "It really is a treasured part of our history.""This bridge isn't just about history," Seage said. "People still use it every day to come across from their homes on Frenche's Grove and access the beach, the park-and-ride on Route 206 or the deli across the highway. It still serves a purpose to this community, and that's why we feel that the future of the bridge is just as important as its past."Seage said Save Our Bridge hopes to secure the necessary restoration funds by 2030, the 100th anniversary of the bridge's construction."Once we complete the repairs, we want to establish an endowment fund that will help to make sure that maintenance and upkeep can continue moving forward," Seage said.Once the bridge is repaired and restored, Seage said, Save Our Bridge will work to see it listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places."Many of New Jersey's parks and historic sites are desperatley in need of funds for repair and rehabilitation, and at this point in time, the state just doesn't have enough money to go around," former Mayor James Oscovitch said. "We cannot rely on the state of New Jersey to provide the sole source of money to help save our bridge -- volunteerism and grassroots community efforts will be needed to save this historic icon."Save Our Bridge will host a number of fundraisers and events throughout the coming months to raise funds and awareness for its cause.Hats, travel mugs and tote bags are also available for purchase through the organization's website.In addition, Seage said, part of the proceeds from the Salt Gastropub's Tap 9 donation program -- in which any beer purchased from the designated tap will lead to a contribution to a charitable organization -- will go to the Save Our Bridge fund until the end of June."We're taking things a step at a time," Seage said. "I honestly do believe, though, that if we can get a few good people or organizations behind us, we will be able to meet, if not surpass, our goals."For more information about donations, getting involved or upcoming events, visit www.saveourbridge.net.