The Friends of the Medora Covered Bridge Association has conducted a dinner on the 141-year-old bridge for the past six years.
The event always is on one of the hotter days of the summer — the first Saturday in August.
There’s a simple reason for that, one organizer says.
“We know that is a hot time of the summer, but we also know it’s the least likely time that the river will flood,” Nick Walden said.
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This year’s event, which was Aug. 6, was no different, but it still managed to draw 260 people.
Walden and 11 others comprise the membership of the Friends of the Medora Covered Bridge Association who have taken it upon themselves to watch over the nation’s longest historic covered bridge and talk about its merits with visitors.
All share a common bond.
“We all want to save the bridge,” Walden said. “We have compassion for protecting the bridge and keeping it looking nice for visitors.”
The association came about in 2009, shortly before a project to restore the 460-foot bridge began. The $1.3 million restoration project, completed in 2010-11, was financed through a grant from the National Historic Covered Bridge Fund along with state and local funding.
The project saw the bridge adorned with a new roof, new siding and a new floor. The west end of the bridge also was lifted up to allow workers to pour a new concrete footer and repair the abutment, Walden said.
“There was major deterioration over the years from weather and with just being used on a daily basis for almost 100 years,” he said.
The covered bridge is one of two remaining in Jackson County and one of 93 still remaining in the state.
But the Medora Covered Bridge stands tall — actually, longer — than all of the rest in part because of its age, Walden said, and because it was a working bridge from 1875 until 1972 when it was bypassed by a new concrete bridge to carry traffic to and from the east side of Medora.
The Medora Covered Bridge has made a name for itself with tourists, Walden said. It is marked on the state map as the longest covered bridge, and there is a sign on U.S. 50 welcoming travelers to make the trip down State Road 135 to State Road 235 and then west to the bridge. You also can drive to the bridge by turning onto State Road 235 and following it south through the small community.
Walden said in 2015 alone, 5,000 people visited the bridge.
There is a guest sign-in book inside of the bridge, and it contains some surprising facts about those visiting the bridge.
“We had visitors from every state except for Utah and Rhode Island,” Walden said.
People from 27 different countries also made the trip to the bridge.
“In 2014, there was a Greyhound bus that stopped at the bridge,” he said. “Everyone was from Britain. This woman told me they all made a list of places they wanted to visit from the west coast to the east coast, and the Medora Covered Bridge was one of their stops.
“When you volunteer out at the bridge for five hours a day, it’s an ongoing stream of people,” he said. “I grew up in Medora, and the covered bridge is a way bigger tourist attraction than I ever realized.”
Visitors to the bridge can purchase souvenirs, such as shirts and paintings on the original wood boards from the bridge that the volunteers were able to salvage. Walden painted some of those scenes on the old wood from the bridge.
“From the money that we raise as an association, we would like to install a security system and a sprinkler system,” Walden said. “The vandalism and graffiti is nonstop.”
Walden also works as a volunteer during the annual dinner on the bridge.
“I wasn’t really able to talk with people, but there was a couple from Florida,” he said. “And there was a lady from Chicago, Illinois, who used to live in Medora. She has family in Indiana, and so they reserved two tables for 18 people and made it like a small family reunion.”
In 2015, a couple from Arkansas traveled to Medora for the dinner, he said.
The food was catered by LaDonna’s Country Cookin’ in Salem. The meal consisted of fried chicken, roast beef, sides, salads and pies.
The Sure Shot Turkey Dusters, a bluegrass band from Lawrence County, provided the music, and local businesses donated 50 door prizes for the event.
All of the money raised goes back into protecting the bridge.
“This covered bridge draws in thousands of visitors a year, so it’s important to keep it looking nice and protected,” Walden said. “Preserving the bridge is a way of remembering history.”
For information about the bridge, visit medoracoveredbridge.com