Bridge Destroyed by Tornado Lures Visitors (PHOTOS)
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Ten years after a tornado felled 11 of its 20 bridge towers, the historic Kinzua Bridge in McKean County, Pa., once considered an "Eighth Wonder of the World," is now a reinvented tourist attraction. Its ruins lure visitors by the thousands, and serve as a reminder of man's engineering feats and how Mother Nature can take them down.
Originally built in 1882, the Kinzua Bridge once held the record for tallest railroad bridge in the world. It was rebuilt in 1900 and later became the centerpiece of a Pennsylvania state park. Restoration of the Kinzua Bridge began in 2002 after engineers found that sections of steel on the bridge were rusted through, according to Kinzua Bridge State Park documents. They determined that high winds could create lateral pressure on the bridge, and wind hitting the bridge could shift the center of gravity and increase the weight on one side. The event could send the whole bridge crashing to the bottom of Kinzua Creek Valley.
Restoration work on the bridge wasn't even completed when, on July 21, 2003, 3:15 p.m., a tornado registering F1 (wind speed 73-112 mph) on the Fujita scale ripped through Kinzua Bridge State Park and struck the bridge, tearing 11 towers from their concrete bases and throwing them to the valley floor. It took less than 30 seconds for the tornado to destroy a bridge that had stood for over a century, according to an article in the Society for Industrial Archeology newsletter.
It turns out the destructive tornado came with a silver lining, paving the way for a "reinvention" of the historic bridge. Hoping to turn the ruins into a visitor attraction and boost visits, thePennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) decided to leave the collapsed towers on the floor of the gorge and transform the remaining towers into an overlook and observation deck. The Kinzua Sky Walk, a pedestrian walkway to an observation deck with a glass floor at the end of the bridge that allows views of the bridge and the valley directly below, was unveiled in 2011.
“With construction and dedication of the new overlook, the draw of that natural venue intensifiedand you can see that in the rising attendance numbers, surpassing 165,000 in 2011,” Terry Brady, deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania DCNR, told The Bradford Era newspaper. "Visitation is expected to improve even more when a new visitor center is constructed at the park; bids are expected to go out [in 2014]."
Currently, work is under way at the park to build a walking path to the bottom of the Kinzua Gorge, according to The Bradford Era. The old paths have been closed since the tornado.