MOUNT JEWETT (TNS) — In a fall that seems in a hurry to get here, the leaves were changing fast this past week across Pennsylvania’s northern tier.
That put Kinzua Bridge State Park at Mount Jewett in McKean County squarely in the crosshairs for the Patriot-News’ first “Today’s Top Fall Foliage Spot in Pennsylvania” of 2020.
Facebook reports were showing the autumnal colors right on the edge of full blast at the 339-acre park, which features the reinvented Kinzua Viaduct.
Here’s the description of the amazing attraction that arose from the destruction of part of the viaduct by a tornado provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
”Construction of the iron viaduct began during 1881, starting with the placement of the stone piers. When completed during 1882, the Kinzua Bridge Viaduct was the highest railroad viaduct in the world. It was constructed as an alternative to laying an additional eight miles of track over rough terrain along the line leading to McKean County’s coal, timber and oil lands.
”Built of iron, the original viaduct was approximately 301 feet high, 2,053 feet long, and weighed 3,105,000 pounds. The towers were a patented design called Phoenix Columns. The columns were lighter in weight and had greater strength than cast iron columns of similar shape and size.
”By 1900, it became necessary to rebuild the entire structure with steel to accommodate heavier trains. Later that year, about 100 to 150 men, working 10-hour shifts, completed the job in 105 days. The new steel viaduct had the same measurements, but now weighed 6,706,000 pounds.
“Freight traffic discontinued during 1959,” and in 1963 “Governor William Scranton signed a law that created Kinzua Bridge State Park. The park officially opened (in) 1970. Kinzua Viaduct received national recognition when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks during 1977.
“Beginning (in) 1987, excursion trains traveled from Marienville, through the Allegheny National Forest, and stopping on Kinzua Viaduct before returning to their point of origin.”
In 2002, DCNR engineers decided the structure needed a full-scale inspection. Excursion trains were barred from the bridge. And, during the inspection engineers found sections of steel were rusted through. In August, the bridge was closed to all traffic, including pedestrians.
”Engineers determined high winds could create lateral pressure on the bridge, causing it to shift the center of gravity, thus increasing the weight on one side. Such an event could send the whole bridge crashing to the bottom of the Kinzua Creek Valley.
”Beginning in February 2003, W. M. Brode Company, a national leader in railroad bridge construction and repair, began working to restore Kinzua Viaduct.
”On Monday, July 21, 2003, at approximately 3:15 p.m., an F1 tornado (wind speed 73 – 112 mph) struck the side of Kinzua Viaduct. Eleven towers from the center of the bridge were torn from their concrete bases and thrown to the valley floor.
”Today, park visitors can once again walk a portion of the Kinzua Bridge. Built on six restored, original towers, a pedestrian walkway (skywalk) leads to a 225-foot high observation deck that gives a towering view of the Kinzua Creek Valley.
”A partial glass floor in the deck reveals a breathtaking glimpse into the steel structure of the bridge. The 11 twisted and scattered bridge towers blown over by the tornado remain at the bottom of the valley for visitors to view from the deck railings. Several benches line the paved walkway to the skywalk.
“A grand opening was held on September 15, 2011.”
The park is open every day of the year, sunrise to sunset. Day use areas close at dusk.
Picnicking and hiking trails are available. The Kinzua Bridge Scenic Byway is a designated shared-use hiking and biking corridor.