Letters to the EditorNews

The Murmur Trestle Can Be Saved

Known throughout the world as the Murmur Trestle, the time is now to decide its fate. Used by many publications as a symbol of Athens, it not only appears on the back of R.E.M.’s first album, it also appeared on the cover of the Flagpole Guide To Athens. Yet for some reason, you seem to consistently tout its deterioration and neglect and spin the fate of the trestle in a negative light.

The trestle over Trail Creek is a symbol of the economic growth of Athens following the Civil War, and may have even been built by an African-American bridge builder who once made his home in Athens. A new trestle was built over Trail Creek in less than a month in the late 1800s, replacing one which was not as structurally sound. Railroads could not afford to be shut down for long periods, and the unique design of wooden trestles allow for ease of maintenance and repair. African-American churches at the turn of the 20th Century used to hold baptisms in the shadow of the wooden trestle, and it serves as a unique part of that local community.

Throughout the world, many cities have decided that these unique structures—wooden railroad trestles—are worth saving as part of their Rails to Trails programs, as they choose to adaptively reuse them in their projects. One of the more unique structures is known as the Kinsol Trestle, the tallest wooden railroad trestle in British Columbia, which was partially dismantled and restored as a wooden trestle in less than a year in 2010–2011. One can Google the name and find many videos related to its restoration and use.

In 2017, when decisions were being made with regard to TSPLOST projects, a representative of Koppers Railroad Structures came to Athens to make a visual cursory examination of the bridge. Koppers is a national company specializing in the restoration, repair and maintenance of railroad trestles. The company has over 65 years of experience in this field, and is currently responsible for over 25,000 wooden trestles for railroads all across the country. Upon visiting the trestle, the representative stated that it would be a waste of time, money and resources to tear down this trestle, and that much of the trestle is in good enough shape to be reused and restored. This company has the experience, supply chain and engineering knowledge unique to wooden trestle design. It even informally submitted an estimated cost of less than $2 million to restore and build a crossing using the bridge, with a guarantee there would be no further maintenance required for 10 years.

As with any large project, there will always be something coming up, yet the bridge would still allow a safe crossing over Trail Creek. Koppers is a construction company, not an architectural design firm, and was unable to participate in the bidding process due to the unique limitations set by the powers that be requiring public input. The representative estimated about six months to complete the structure.

As a music history tour guide, I have shown over 1,000 people the trestle, and most every time I drive by, there are people checking it out. I know of wedding pictures taken down there. And in 2002, $5,000 was raised by music fans across the globe to offset the city’s cost, which initially saved the structure and brings us to this day.

The trestle can be saved, and hopefully it will be there for future generations to enjoy. Please add your input.

Editor’s note: Public hearings on the trestle are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 2 at the Bobby Snipes Water Resource Center on Barber Street and 10 a.m. Saturday, May 4 at the ACC Planning Department on Dougherty Street.