A bridge not too far: Time to cut the ribbon

After a five-year fundraising campaign, the grassroots organization Pathways Over Pogue’s is gearing up to celebrate the reopening of the Nowland Avenue Bridge in Spades Park, just west of Rural, from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday May 7.

Organizers are planning the family-friendly event as a thank-you to the hundreds of people and organizations that contributed to the successful campaign.

Sunday’s program is scheduled to feature plein air artists, games, kite flying, and dogs up for adoption.  Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra musicians Daniel Lewis and Allen D. Miller are scheduled to perform.

Speakers are scheduled to include Mayor Joe Hogsett; City-County Councilor Zach Adamson; Mark Dollase of Indiana Landmarks; Mairi Cooper, daughter of renowned historic bridge author Dr. James Cooper, who was a consultant for POP before his death in 2021; Liz Rice from Friends of Brookside and Spades Park with a survey for audience members about their vision for the parks; and Laurie Klinger from POP.

After the ribbon cutting, the plan includes “idiophonist” Bill Bailey and banjo player Jude Odell leading people over the bridge. Participants will be encouraged to accompany Bill and Jude with shakers made from empty tennis containers filled with popcorn. 

Adamson plans to lead a bike ride along the planned 5.3-mile Pogue’s Run Trail ending at Pogue’s Run Art and Nature Park near Emerson Avenue and 21st Street.  The Indianapolis Hiking Club, an early supporter of the campaign, will lead a hike across the bridge and into Brookside Park.

Laurie Klinger of Patheways Over Pogue’s has related the history of the grassroots fundraising effort which has brought the project to this point:

Thanks in part to the repair of the bridge, Pogue’s Run Trail is moving forward with the second phase scheduled to be bid out in June of this year. The trail’s final phase from Olney Street to Pogue’s Run Art and Nature Park should begin in 2024.

Early contributors to design the bridge included Indiana Landmarks, Reconnecting to Our Waterways, Central Indiana Community Foundation, the Greenways Foundation and Cummins.

After the design was completed, the City of Indianapolis supported POP as it applied for a federal Community Development Block Grant to rebuild the bridge, and covered all overage costs. That meant the funds POP had already raised towards the bridge reconstruction before being awarded the federal grant could now be used for other purposes.

POP plans to use surplus funds for maintenance of the Nowland Avenue Bridge as well as the evaluation and design of another deteriorated bridge in Brookside Park, which abuts the future trail route, but is not part of the route.  At the celebration, POP volunteers plan to lead those interested on a hike into the park to view the bridge.

The campaign began in the summer of 2017 when a group of Near Eastside neighbors met with city officials to discuss the need to repair the bridge – the main corridor between Spades and Brookside parks.  The bridge had been deteriorating for decades. 

The group was told that the city did not have the funds, nor were there were plans for it in the foreseeable future. When pressed on what it would take to change that, city officials challenged neighbors to fundraise themselves for at least part of the cost.

What made this more daunting was that the bridge is a historic structure that had to be rebuilt to original standards. Designed by renowned engineer Daniel B. Luten in 1903, it was Luten’s oldest remaining bridge in Indianapolis – and an early example of his patented Luten Arch which allowed bridges to be built with less material while maintaining stability.

With no formal fundraising experience, neighbors started with a silent auction at their local hangout, the Tick Tock Lounge on East Tenth Street.  In one night, the group, now known as Pathways Over Pogue’s, raised almost $7,000.

POP earned a major boost from the Central Indiana Community Foundation.  After emailing a cold pitch to CICF accompanied by photos of six-foot-tall neighbor Jerry Shepherd in his undertaker suit climbing into the bridge’s man-sized crevices, CICF President Brian Payne told POP members that CICF got a lot of requests for help and couldn’t help them all. But he added that he couldn’t ‘not’ help them and offered POP up to a $30,000 match.

Aided by individuals, businesses, artists, musicians, Near Eastside neighborhood organizations, early grantors Indiana Landmarks and the Greenways Foundation, and culminating in a final fundraiser hosted by Zach Adamson, POP exceeded its goal – raising $40,000. With the matching funds, POP had raised almost enough to cover the evaluation and design of the bridge – a significant hurdle in getting the bridge rebuilt.  

POP’s partner, Reconnecting to Our Waterways, provided the rest. In a fortuitous fluke, Cummins had funds that needed to be spent by the end of the year and offered the funds to ROW, and through ROW to POP.  That took POP over the top.

By March 2020, the evaluation and design were done, and POP was ready to launch the second phase to raise the funds for the reconstruction itself – just when COVID-19 hit. 

For a year, POP sought the estimated $524,000 needed, writing grants, participating in a grueling 25-day crowdfunding contest, reaching out to engineering firms, realtors, developers, those who had contributed in the past, city and state agencies, even descendants of the Daniel B. Luten.  But even with the generous support of hundreds of donors, in amounts ranging from $5 to $10,000, POP fell far short of what was needed.

So neighbors went back to the city. That is when city officials offered to support POP if it applied for a federal Community Development Block Grant.

The reconstruction of the bridge was completed in November.  For more information, contact  info@popindy.org.

PHOTO ABOVE: A painting by plein air artist Avery Dellinger created for the opening of the Nowland Avenue Bridge. 

The project when it was completed in November.

The Nowland Avenue Bridge before reconstruction.