Bridge building the MDS way

Volunteers build a 120-foot swinging footbridge after Hurricane Sandy cut a family off from nearby road

May 26, 2014 by and

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WEBSTER SPRINGS, W.Va. — Forty feet isn’t a long walk, but it can be a difficult journey when the creek between your house and the road is running high and the bridge is out.

Josephine and Garcie Cogar test out their new swinging footbridge, built by MDS volunteers. — MDS

Josephine and Garcie Cogar test out their new swinging footbridge, built by MDS volunteers. — MDS

Almost a year and a half after their link to the road was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, Garcie and Josephine Cogar are happily walking their new 120-foot swinging bridge built by Mennonite Disaster Service volunteers.

The Cogars’ plight was brought to the attention of Larry Stoner, MDS disaster response coordinator, by the Red Cross of West Virginia.

Stoner and Rodney Burkholder, secretary for MDS Region I and board member for the MDS Shenandoah Valley Unit, visited the family and saw the damage to the old bridge. After several calls and visits to local authorities to confirm the logistics of permits and inspections, a plan began. Since the creek is only 40 feet wide, the bridge wouldn’t need a center support. A swinging bridge was the solution.

Bridges aren’t the norm for MDS, so Burkholder contacted a friend in Harrisonburg, Va., engineer Johann Zimmerman. He made a visit, met the family and volunteered to design the bridge for free.

It took several months to complete the design. The Cogar family was a little apprehensive. Would this really happen?

Stoner also wondered how it would all come together.

“The Lord provided answers each time we had a question,” he said.

Dave Gingrich of Landisville, Pa., visited the site with Stoner, and signed up to help coordinate supplies. Needs included two steel towers welded, cables, clamps and lumber for the walking deck. Gingerich helped MDS purchase supplies locally.

A small crew of volunteers from Lancaster and Harrisonburg went to dig foundations and pour footers for the towers. The plan was to drive the concrete truck through the stream to get the concrete to the far footer. But when the day arrived, it was too wet and snowy, so a contact in Harrisonburg who had a concrete pump was called, and the concrete hose was pulled through the stream.

“I saw God’s Spirit leading in this job so many times,” Stoner said. “When it came time to actually take volunteers for the building of the bridge, we started to wonder who would be willing to go.”

Calls were made to longtime volunteers. Friends called friends, and the number of volunteers grew to 14. The work was done in three and a half days.

The Cogar family and community supported the project. The family helped clean up debris from the old bridge and cut down two trees too close to the new bridge. Meals were served to the volunteers by the extended family and local churches.

“We have a good working relationship with the local Baptist and Methodist churches where our volunteers were fed and lodged,” Stoner said. “And we have been asked to check into another bridge.”

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