U.S. Sen. John Boozman visited the Boxley Valley portion of the Buffalo National River Monday afternoon with Buffalo National River Superintendent Mark Foust. The men met at the Ponca Elk Education Center then took a tour of the valley.
One of the stops was at the historic Ponca low water bridge. Several years ago there was talk of the National Park Service wanting to remove the bridge.
Boozman said he remembered that time and said plans now call for the bridge not only to be saved, but rehabilitated.
Foust said a planning meeting was recently held on the project, and it is scheduled to begin this fall.
The low water bridge continues to be the site for baptism ceremonies conducted by local churches and is a popular summer swimming hole and springtime canoe trip launching point. The bridge also provides access to the Beaver Jim Villines historic homestead.
Boozman said the meeting was about the river in general since Foust’s arrival as superintendent of the river park last September.
A press release states the restoration and stabilization of the low-water bridge will begin this week. Constructed in 1943 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Ponca bridge made it possible for vehicles to cross the Buffalo River along the historic route to and from Jasper for several decades.
The Ponca low-water bridge is a contributing cultural feature in the Boxley Valley Historic District of Buffalo National River. Very few WPA-era bridges of its kind remain in the state of Arkansas. During a public comment period in 2006 over a proposed plan to remove the structure, the public exhibited overwhelming preference instead for its preservation. The forthcoming restoration work will include stabilization of the original bridge foundation, resurfacing of the road deck, and patching of weak spots throughout the structure.
This is one of several public transportation projects at Buffalo National River to be funded by the Eastern Federal Highways Program. Federal Highways Administration officials awarded the project bid to Kovilic Construction Co., Inc. of Franklin Park, Illinois. Work will begin Oct. 29 and last approximately 40 days, contingent upon weather delays. The public should expect restricted access and periodic closures of the bridge during this time. This may affect access to the canoe launch, Beaver Jim Villines Homestead, and the Buffalo River Trail to/from Boxley and Steel Creek. The public is urged to have alternate plans in case the bridge is temporarily closed during their visit.