YARDLEY BOROUGH >> A public fundraising campaign is officially underway to help replace the deteriorating Mary Yardley Footbridge, which spans the Delaware Canal in the Rivermawr section of town.
On July 25, Rich Wayne and John Celentano from the grassroots group, the Friends of the Mary Yardley Footbridge, kicked off the campaign by posting signs and installing brochure holders at three locations in the borough - one at the bridge, one at the North Main Street easement and the third along the Yardley Walk pedestrian path.
“It’s a beautiful community asset,” said Celantano of the bridge, which has spanned the historic canal in one form or another for a century. “You see families using it, particularly on the weekends. It provides safe access for people walking into the town center. And it provides access into a park where people can experience history and enjoy some beautiful wildlife.”
The Friends of the Mary Yardley Footbridge are partnering with the borough and the Friends of the Delaware Canal to raise the money needed to replace the footbridge for future generations to use and enjoy.
Under the public portion of its fundraising campaign, the first $35,000 raised between now and September 15 will be matched - dollar-for-dollar - by an anonymous borough donor.
The committee has established six donation levels, each corresponding to a bird that makes its home along the historic Delaware Canal and Towpath.
You can be a Canada Goose with a donation of $25, a Wood Duck for a $50 contribution and a Mallard Duck for $100. Donate even more and you can reach Egret ($500), Great Blue Heron ($1,000) and Bald Eagle ($1500 and above) status.
In addition, the borough, which owns the bridge, has set aside $70,000 in its budget to pay for the project. And another $40,000 in state grant funding has been allocated toward the project.
The committee also is seeking corporate and business donations and has already raised a little more than $15,000 toward that goal. “We’d love to get another $15,000,” said Celentano.
Donations can be made online at fodc.org/yardley-footbridge or they can be sent to the Friends of the Delaware Canal, 145 South Main Street, New Hope 18938 (c/o the Mary Yardley Footbridge).
“For residents living on Lincoln and North Main, this bridge is their only safe access to town,” said Wayne, a resident of North Main. But even more important, he said the bridge provides a vital link to the borough’s riverfront neighborhoods during flooding events.
"The bridge is important to the community,” he said, “because it improves walkability, serves as a link to the Delaware Canal towpath for many residents, offers an emergency outlet during floods and acts as a reminder of Yardley's founding.”
Last replaced in the 1980s by a wooden span, the footbridge crosses the historic Delaware Canal just north of Edgewater Avenue, linking North Main Street with Rivermawr via a public easement.
The bridge is unique in that the span itself is owned by the borough, but the land where it’s located is owned by the state and is part of the Delaware Canal State Park. The park extends from Easton to Bristol and is the only remaining, continuously intact canal from the great towpath canal-building era of the early to mid-19th century.
According to Celentano, an independent inspection done on the bridge a few years ago by the Friends of the Delaware Canal revealed that the overall condition of the bridge is “structurally deficient” and that various components of the span are either in “fair or poor condition.”
The borough council responded by asking its engineers to investigate the condition of the span, explore various replacement options and to come up with a cost for replacing the span.
Council also informally created the Friends of the Mary Yardley Footbridge, which subsequently partnered with the Friends of the Delaware Canal to raise awareness and funds for the project.
Council had initially favored replacing the span with a fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) structure due to cost and engineering factors.
Local preservationists, however, lobbied for a steel span arguing an FRP span would not be in keeping with the historic nature of the waterway and would set a dangerous precedent in the nationally-registered historic park.
Supporters of the steel span, including the Friends of the Delaware Canal, eventually proposed a compromise, suggesting a cheaper aluminum span in lieu of the FRP.
After considerable discussion and debate, this spring council settled on an aluminum span that would be more in keeping with the nationally-registered historic park.
The original metal footbridge was built more than a century ago and named for Mary Yardley, the adjacent property owner who granted a public easement to access the bridge.
The footbridge and bridge path were used to connect Main Street and the Rivermawr neighborhood, providing access to a trolley line that ran along North Main Street.
Back in those days, Rivermawr was a summer retreat for people looking to escape the urban environment of the early 1900’s. At that time, automobiles were a luxury, so many residents relied on the trolley and the railroad as their primary means of transportation.
After more than 70 years of use, the metal footbridge was replaced in the 1980s by a wooden span which now needs to be replaced. The current 40-year-old foot bridge is primarily used for recreational purposes, providing access to the canal towpath for cycling, walking, running, fishing and dog walking.
As the northern-most bridge in the Borough, it connects residents to the town’s restaurants, shopping, and Yardley events, such as Harvest Day, Canaloween, Music on Main, and the Christmas and Memorial Day parades.
The footbridge also is an important alternate means of emergency access in the event of flooding in the river neighborhoods.
During the back-to-back floods in 2004, 2005 and 2006, residents and first responders used the bridge frequently as an access and escape route to the flooded areas.
“For over 100 years, the footbridge has retained historic significance as a link to Yardley Borough’s past,” says the committee’s fundraising brochure. “The original footbridge brought the Yardley community together in the early 20th century. Now, in the 21st century, it is time to honor its place in history and install a new site-sensitive footbridge to last for generations to come.”