The old Boise Cascade lumber mill is a silent hulk of green metal. Its visible across a dry, scrubby field from the Lolo Bridge in Emmett.
The bridge, built in northern Idaho in 1950, became an Emmett transplant in 2008. It links two sections of Emmetts walking path and what community leaders hope is Emmetts pre-recession past with a more prosperous future.
Not long after the mill closed 11 years ago and hundreds of people lost their jobs, Tom Hoppell decided this town of more than 6,500 people needed a good walking trail.
There are people without jobs, without money, said Hoppell, president of the Gem County Recreation District for the past two decades.
If they can exercise, they can let some steam out. They dont need anything more than a drink of water.
But to have a trail that crosses roads and canals and winds through wetlands, Emmett needed bridges.
Bridges cost money bad news for a cash-strapped town. Luckily, Hoppell is a self-described scrounger.
Hes collected massive boulders from the old mill site. Hes tucked away felled telephone poles to use in future landscape projects.
When he found out the Idaho Transportation Department was decommissioning a few bridges around Idaho, he led the effort to get them to Emmett.
The Lolo Bridge, installed over the Smith Ditch not far from downtown Emmett, was the first.
Three more followed: the Butte Road Bridge from Sweet, built in 1908, and two others made from parts of a bridge that stood on Glenwood Street in Boise in the 1950s.
Emmett has its own native born railroad bridge built in 1902 on the western edge of town. Its warped boards have weathered to gray. Hoppell is planning a facelift. A fifth bridge, from 1913, is coming from Shoshone.
PRESERVING HOPE AND HISTORY
The bridges connect Emmetts nearly 6 miles of public walking trails. The bridges are modest, more utilitarian than picturesque. But they mean a lot to the town. They enhance public spaces and encourage people to get outside, said Mayor Bill Butticci.
The project also preserves history that might otherwise be lost, he said.
The Emmett Rotary Club paid for historic signs at each bridge. Local scouts installed them.
Eagle Scouts are my heroes, said Hoppell.
The Lolo Bridge, itself constructed out of even older salvaged parts, earned Emmett some acclaim in 2010. Preservation Idaho gave its award for cultural heritage preservation to Emmett and Gem County for saving it.
The bridge is Idahos last remaining king post pony truss bridge, distinguished by its simple triangular sides supported by a vertical beam.
PUTTING THE PIECES TOGETHER
The bridge arrived in Emmett one Saturday morning four years ago, disassembled on a flatbed truck.
I was expecting to see a big rig with flashing lights on both ends and an intact bridge, or at least two halves, not a bunch of metal stacked up like loaves of bread, said Hoppell.
Are you Tom? he said the driver asked him. Well, heres your bridge.
Hoppell admits he stood and looked at the shipment for the longest time then got to work, enlisting local builders and welders former mill workers to put the bridge back together. Most volunteered their time. He got a grant from the Idaho Community Foundation for a few thousand dollars to pay two welders to do the actual metal work.
They told me, Tom, well either sell it for scrap, or youll have a bridge, recalled Hoppell.
A TRUE COLLABORATION
The bridge project is a joint effort among many agencies and groups.
The bridges themselves were free. Moving them to Emmett has cost about $1,500. Grants from ITD, Idaho State Parks and Recreation and the Idaho Community Foundation helped pay the bill. The project has also taken countless hours of sweat equity.
The bridge project is just one thing Emmett is doing to help the area thrive, said Cheryl Conrad, co-owner of Antiques N Things on Main Street. Shes part of a committee working to designate a scenic byway that would pass through Emmett from Payette and Horseshoe Bend, for instance.
This all ties in with the work weve done downtown. Were trying to position ourselves to be more in the loop, said Conrad.
Emmett received $1 million in federal stimulus money and grants to help renovate its downtown streetscapes.
A VISION FOR THE FUTURE
When the mill closed, Conrads family took a direct hit.
Her husband, son and brother-in-law lost their jobs. Her husband was old enough to retire. Her son and brother-in-law trained for new jobs through the Department of Labor.
The downside: The new jobs werent in Emmett; Conrads relatives had to leave their hometown. She worries that Emmett will continue to lose its residents, Sunday school teachers, baseball coaches and the like, if the town doesnt come back to life.
There are other hopeful signs that might be happening. A smaller lumber company opened recently, not far from the old mill. Its expected to provide about 40 jobs.
Im just sorry we didnt do more of this when the mill was operating, Conrad said. If only wed had this vision then.
Anna Webb: 377-6431