Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Bridge Builder

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim
That sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when he reached the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim near,
"You are wasting strength in building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?"

The builder lifted his old gray head.
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him."

--Will Allen Dromgoole (1860-1934), author and poet

The photo above is of a unique footbridge outside of Hampton, TN where the Appalachian Trail crosses Laurel Fork. The volunteers of the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club (TEHCC) are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of 126 miles of the AT -- from Spivey Gap south of Erwin, TN to Damascas, VA. They are the bridge builders and "keepers of the trail," whose hard work and sacrifices keep the trail beautiful and safe. Here is a link to photos of the construction of the Laurel Fork bridges.

Click here to read my friend Aaron Wymer's interesting recollection of this trail to Laurel Falls.


  1. My Smoky Mountain patriarchs worked with the CCC to cut the roads and build the bridges that are part of the National Park. Wiley Oakley told the tall tale about how they built the bridge at the Loop between the Chimneys and Newfound Gap.

    In Wiley's words: "Why, the engineers, they come in and started surveying roads. They started one from Gatlinburg to Newfound Gap. They put a crew and a 'super' in to put one coming this a'way, and they met somewhere around the Chimleys [sic], and they had a kinda offset, a bauble in the highway. So they found out they had more highway than they knew what to do with, and they just tied a knot in the road, and they made that there Loop bridge."

    The Blue Ridge Highlander describes The Loop this way: "Halfway up the mountain road you’ll reach the Loop where you will drive under a high stone bridge following the road a full circle upward and cross over the same stone bridge with the road below, quite an engineering feat when you consider when the Loop was constructed in the 1930’s."

    AH! Building bridges for those smiles and smiles of roads!

  2. I thought bridge building in the Pond Mt. Wild. area was forbidden. Some bridges washed out during the 1998 (or 1997?) floods and the last time I was there they were gone. Made hiking there much harder. Have they been rebuilt?

  3. The bridges have indeed been rebuilt. I think the restriction (as far as I heard) was that all bridges in this area had to be built using primitive methods in order to fit in the character of the wilderness. Here's a quote from the TEHCC website..."After a flood in January 1998, the upper bridge (Koonford Bridge) on this section was rebuilt in 1998, and the two lower bridges were rebuilt in 1999."


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