Painting by local artist-alumna helps pave the way for new bridge over Cullowhee Creek

The new structure goes into place with the use of a crane.

A new bridge over Cullowhee Creek near Western Carolina University’s picnic area was installed this week with an expected opening for pedestrian traffic of Thursday, Nov. 15.

The 56-foot-long steel structure replaces a long-since defunct, and later demolished, wooden footbridge.

“The Old Bridge” by Sheena Kohlmeyer.

“The bridge spans Cullowhee Creek on much the same footprint as the old bridge,” said Matthew Millican, project manager for WCU’s Department of Facilities Management. “It’s more than a replacement; it’s an upgrade. The new bridge meets environmental impact and safety regulations, and is aesthetically keeping with the campus setting. It connects the picnic area with the walking path and opens up accessibility.”

Permitting for the bridge came about with support from an unlikely source ― a painting of the original structure, titled “The Old Bridge” by Sylva artist Sheena Kohlmeyer. She did the painting in 2011 while taking a watercolor class at WCU for her master’s degree in arts education, one of a series of watercolor paintings of campus. Prints of the series can be found on her website, fineartamerica.com/profiles/sheena-kohlmeyer.

“It’s unusual, but a painting led to providing the visual evidence of the prior bridge, with a viewpoint and perspective of the original site in the floodplain, that was needed to gain an OK for construction,” said Patrick Bradshaw of Civil Design Concepts of Asheville, who handled project engineering, working with WCU Facilities Management.

Final installation work is being completed on the new bridge.

Kohlmeyer is now an arts teacher at Swain County Middle School. “Years after I painted the bridge, I heard that it had been torn down,” she said. “I was sad that it was gone. A couple of months ago, Greg Hoffman with Civil Design Concepts emailed me because he had found ‘The Old Bridge’ painting online. He asked me if I had taken any photos of the bridge when I painted it, so I sent him one. He emailed me with an update on the new bridge, saying my picture was instrumental in getting it permitted. I look forward to seeing and walking across the new bridge.”

The bridge was manufactured by Excel Bridge Manufacturing Company of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which also built the pedestrian bridge located near Locust Creek on the Jackson County Greenway. Hoffman designed the abutments per the manufacturer’s requirements and worked closely with state agencies and local residents to get the bridge built.

“There’s been a lot of work with preparation, building abutments, grading the area and constructing a pad for the crane that would set the steel structure into place,” Bradshaw said. “This morning (Tuesday, Nov. 6) with the crane lowering it into place got us a step closer to completion and being used soon.”