groups of people gathered in large hall
Residents gathered on Thursday in Narrowsburg to learn more about the future of the Skinners Falls Bridge. PHOTO BY MEG MCGUIRE

Residents get the skinny on the Skinners Falls Bridge

| April 26, 2024

The potential future of the Skinners Falls Bridge, which connects Sullivan County in New York with Wayne County in Pennsylvania, was distilled to posters on easels on Thursday night in Narrowsburg in a setting that resembled a science fair.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation eschewed a customary public hearing to gain input from residents and instead invited members of the public to roam among various stations to ask questions of contractors and PennDOT representatives stationed at informational boards at the Narrowsburg Union.

The future of the bridge, which has been closed since October 2019 after years of emergency repairs, closings and re-openings, has been the source of angst among some residents who revere the piece of infrastructure as both practical and historical.

Beverly Sterner of Milanville, Pa., carried a sign that said “Support Traditional Rehabilitation.”

“It needs to respect the history of the bridge and its relevancy,” she said. “We don’t want it to be a commercial bridge. This area is building up so much. We want to keep the small-town nature of it.”

Among supporters of a traditional rehabilitation, the bridge represents a certain aesthetic that they believe should be preserved.

Nels Raynor, president of Bach Ornamental and Structural Steel, described it in a leaflet as “ornately decorated,” with original lattice railings that feature “beautiful decorative flower motifs.”

“This is to say nothing of the geometric beauty of the complex Baltimore truss configuration combined with the complexity of the riveted built-up beam that contain V lacing and lattice,” he added.

Bridge preservationists have embraced the first phase of a new report, a Historic Bridge Rehabilitation Analysis, which found that it can be restored.

“Restore the bridge! Restore the bridge!” was the refrain from Barbara Arrindell, the director of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, who set up a table outside the meeting room.

Unlike conventional public hearings, residents were encouraged to fill out questionnaires to express their opinions. A 45-day comment period about the future of the bridge closes on May 26.

Beverly Sterner carries her sign supporting a traditional rehabilitation of the bridge. PHOTO BY CHRIS MELE

Series of repairs

The bridge, which is more than 466 feet long and has one lane, connects the communities of Skinners Falls, N.Y., and Milanville, Pa., over the Delaware River.

It is among the oldest known bridges associated with the American Bridge Company, and features a Baltimore truss design, which is known for its short sections of additional bracing in the lower part of the truss to give it extra strength. 

Built in the early 1900s, the bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also considered a “contributing resource” to the Milanville Historic District and is within the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, which is managed by the National Park Service.

Beyond its historical significance, the bridge is of keen interest to business owners who cater to visitors and recreational users, such as Lou’s Tubes on the New York side of the river and the Milanville General Store.

The bridge has had two major rehabilitations, in 1974-75 and 1986, in addition to undergoing emergency repairs in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2016. It was originally constructed with a capacity of nine tons, which was reduced to seven tons in 2007, and reduced again to four tons in 2013.

Read more: Report: What is to become of the historic Skinners Falls Bridge?

Possible alternatives range from doing nothing (“bridge eventually fails”) to a full replacement, according to a report prepared by PennDOT.

Middle-of-the-range alternatives include a bridge that retains “some historic materials while providing a bridge” that meets the needs for traffic and safety, according to the report.

Posters on display on Thursday outlined the construction costs: $2.5 million to do nothing to as much as $26 million for a bridge to address sight lines, carry bicyclists and pedestrians and full loads. A middle estimate, which would keep the current width of the bridge and create bicyclist and pedestrian lanes, would cost up to $19.1 million.

A view of the deck of the Skinners Falls Bridge. Long wooden planks fill the frame.
The authorities are considering three potential options: eliminate the crossing entirely, restore it, or remove it and replace it with a new bridge. PHOTO BY MEG McGUIRE

Questions of carrying capacity

Some residents worried that a larger bridge built to support a greater capacity could mean a two-lane bridge and heavier traffic for the roads leading to it, which are rated for 10 tons.

“What’s going to happen to the 10-ton roads?” asked Susan Sullivan. “They will be destroyed and the taxpayers will have to pay the bill.”

She noted that the bridge connects to a river access for tubers, kayaker and canoers and a campground that draws 20,000 visits per summer. A bigger bridge could mean a more dangerous crossing for pedestrians, she said.

With its timber wooden deck and ornamental features, the bridge, before its closure, blended with the area’s rural setting. It was a place that visitors were happy to see.

But the bridge has deteriorated to such a state that it is has been closed to all traffic. No crossings of any kind — pedestrian, vehicle or bicycle — are permitted. 

Alternate routes between Milanville and the businesses on the eastern shore of the Delaware require a drive of more than six miles, or a 12-minute detour.

Lyle Hocker, whose great-grandfather was once an owner of the bridge when it was still in private hands, does landscaping on both sides of the river and said that since the bridge closed in 2019, the detour has cost him an extra $500 in gas.

As a fiscal conservative, he balked at the idea of spending tens of millions of dollars to replace it with a higher-capacity bridge.

“The bridge has been here for 100 years. It’s served its purpose,” he said. “It will still serve its purpose even if it’s one lane.”

Comments can be submitted to the Skinners Falls project email at: skinnersfallsbridge@aecom.com, to PennDOT project manager Amy Lolli at: PennDOT Assistant Liaison Engineer, Department of Transportation, District Office 4-0, 55 Keystone Industrial Park, Dunmore, PA 18512, or to the District 4-0 Cultural Resource Professional (CRP) at: hgerling@pa.gov.

Chris Mele

Chris Mele

Chris Mele is a reporter and editor with more than 30 years of experience in news, specializing in investigative and enterprise reporting.

6 Comments

  1. Susan Sullivan` on April 26, 2024 at 10:46 am

    Well Done! Thank you.

    • Thomas Gray on May 5, 2024 at 7:54 am

      I live in the area. They just redid the Cochecton bridge and it terrible. The railings they put up block the view of the river. Isn’t that part of the beauty of crossing these bridges..The Skinners Bridge needs to be restored to its original self.

  2. Rose Tyler on April 27, 2024 at 6:02 am

    Please repair the bridge. It crucial to the community.My family has lived here for 13 generations.And with the price of gas today The Skinner’s Bridge is a shortcut for several people. That is why I beg you to please repair it.And keep it the way it has been for over 100 years..

  3. Tim Kowles on May 3, 2024 at 6:00 pm

    Restore it to its original 1 lane design. It needs to be kept to its historic design.

  4. Tom Rue on May 6, 2024 at 11:29 pm

    Well written, good work.

    • Catherine Hopkins on May 13, 2024 at 8:33 am

      Whatever happened to the survey done about 2 years ago with input from residents? I feel like we are going in a circle, every couple of years there is another survey. Please stop procrastinating and just fix the bridge so it can be useful again!!

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