Officials from the park met with Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority representatives Dec. 16 to finalize the agency’s $433,000 grant, which will support construction of a 725-foot pedestrian swinging bridge across the Russell Fork Gorge connecting the Virginia and Kentucky sides of the Breaks.
The structure will be the longest pedestrian swinging bridge in North America, according to park officials, and will also connect the park’s trails to the Pine Mountain Trail.
“VCEDA is pleased to continue to support the growth and expansion of the Breaks Interstate Park,” said Jonathan Belcher, VCEDA executive director/general counsel. “The park is a primary tourism asset in Southwest Virginia’s e-Region and VCEDA is pleased to play a part in this latest project.”
The park has $326,000 in funding for the bridge project from several other sources. Once all the funding for the project is in place, construction of the swinging bridge is expected to begin in the fall of 2020, with the bridge opening in 2021.
In addition to the bridge, the grant will also fund:
— Additional clearing of right of way for electrical infrastructure for the park;
— Site preparation and hydroseeding;
— Replacement electric utility poles;
— Replacement of the roof on a park building;
— Improvement and/or replacement of the septic system for the Adventure Outpost;
— Structural support improvements for the Laurel Lake cabins;
— Catering equipment.
“The Park Commission and staff are extremely excited about the projects which will be made possible by the VCEDA grant, as they will help us continue our efforts to diversify into a national destination for outdoor recreation,” said Breaks Park Superintendent Austin Bradley. “VCEDA’s financial support through the civil penalties grant program has been crucial to our efforts, and we are very grateful for its continued support.”
According to the VCEDA grant application, the park has six full-time and 110 part-time employees and could add another two full-time and 30 part-time jobs within two years.