MT. JEWETT, Pa. (WHTM) – In McKean County, you will find a special piece of history that some called the eighth wonder of the world.
“When it was built, it was the tallest and longest railroad bridge in the whole world,” said Holly Dzemyan, environmental education specialist at Kinzua Bridge State Park.
Built in 94 days in 1882, the bridge was an engineering marvel at 2,053 feet long and 301 feet high.
“There were people that came here to stand out on the bridge as tourists even back during those days,” Dzemyan said.
The original wrought iron towers were replaced with steel, but that steel was no match for Mother Nature on July 1, 2003. In just two minutes, an EF-1 tornado wiped out part of the bridge.
“With the price tag being so much, a decision was made not to rebuild it,” Dzemyan said.
What was left of the bridge was turned into a skywalk, and at 225 feet, it can give you a rush.
“We have all sorts of different reactions,” said Dzemyan. “There are some people that don’t even go all the way out, others hold the rail and they go step-by-step.”
If you can brave the heights and the wind, you can enjoy the views of the Kinzua Valley Gorge. Some are brave enough to stand or lie on a one-inch thick plexiglass platform at the end of the skywalk for a view looking straight down.
From the bridge, you can also see the destruction the tornado left behind. The steel towers still lie in the valley where they fell 14 years ago. The bridge had 20 towers; the tornado knocked down eleven.
You can hike to the valley on Kinzua Creek Trail and get an up-close look at the debris field and the twisted steel. Just a heads up: the trail is rated “most difficult” and is a steep climb back up.
Inside the visitors center, you can learn even more about the history of the bridge with interactive displays and fun facts, like the Statue of Liberty could fit under the bridge.
Kinzua Bridge State Park is also trying something new by partnering with a group called PA Wilds.
“We have a program called the Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania, and that connects over 200 businesses that are local producers throughout the area. They knew we had that connection inside the community and they asked us to partner with them to open this gift shop,” said Abbi Peters, managing director of PA Wilds.
Just about everything in the gift shop is made locally.
Adventure PA Checklist:
Location: Kinzua Bridge State Park is off of Route 6, about four miles from the town of Mt. Jewett. It’s about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Harrisburg.
Accommodations: This is a day-use park only. There are nearby state parks that offer camping.
Cost: Day-use areas and parking are free.
Best time to visit: Fall
For more information: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/findapark/kinzuabridge/index.htm