No one seemed to believe in saving the Riverside Bridge quite like Kris Dyer, and it turns out she had much to believe in for many years.
Dyer was invited to attend a press conference Aug. 1 at the former Wheeler Gardens building in Ozark, where Bass Pro Shops officials announced their plans to restore, develop and reopen the old Ozark Mill into a multipurpose commercial development featuring a restaurant, meeting space and a working farm.
Bass Pro Shops announced plans to relocate the Riverside Bridge from its location on Riverside Road to a spot on the Finley River south of Ozark’s bridge that carries McCracken Street past Finley River Park.
For Dyer, the announcement cast a bright light over years of hard work, meetings, dedication and prayer.
“I just thought, ‘You know, God, it’s been eight years and I don’t know what else I can do with this,’” Dyer said. “I just want to thank God, because He is the one who saved this bridge.”
Dyer’s effort to save the Riverside Bridge from demolition began in January 2010.
“I received a newspaper and it said, ‘County to tear down Riverside Bridge,’ and my heart just broke,” Dyer said.
Dyer, a lover of history, began doing research and contacting anyone she thought might be able to help her take up the cause of preserving the Riverside Bridge. It took years of email, phone calls and filing the right documents with the right organizations. Eventually, the Riverside Bridge fell under protection of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, “which put a stop to the bulldozers, basically.”
Ozark City Administrator Steve Childers recounted his experience working with Dyer in effort to keep the bridge from being demolished.
“Kris is really special to this community because she stepped up and said, ‘Listen, we know you’re going to have to do something with the old Riverside Bridge, and I think the best thing we can do is to save it,’” Childers said.
On the local level, Dyer met with officials from the city of Ozark, the Ozark Special Road District and Christian County.
“We didn’t know how, we didn’t know what that was going to mean, we didn’t know what we were going to do, but we worked together for a few years now, and we got that done,” Childers said.
Megan Morris, daughter of Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, explained that the bridge will be part of a system of trails that patrons of the Ozark Mill development will use to explore the grounds.
“A core piece to the trails that we are offering on site is the Riverside Bridge, a historic local bridge that actually was once located right here in front of the mill,” Morris said.
Morris said Bass Pro Shops is presently in talks with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that the bridge is moved in a manner that complies with federal regulations. An exact timeline for the bridge project is not possible to determine at this point.
“We’re going to be relocating this bridge back to its home here on the property to serve as a trail connection,” Morris said. “We’re really excited to be able to preserve another piece of this town’s history with the bridge.”
Originally built in 1909, the Riverside Bridge was located next to the Ozark Mill. Craftsmen later determined the bridge wasn’t wide enough to properly serve its location and it was moved to its current site approximately a mile and a half away, a press release said. The bridge has been closed since July 2015, when it was deemed unusable after flood waters and debris damaged the structure. When federal and state transportation officials called to destroy the bridge, Dyer and some other Ozark residents teamed up and fought back through a nonprofit initiative, Save the Riverside Bridge.
“I want to thank Megan Morris, and I am just so thankful, I am so excited it is just billowing,” Dyer said. “Just to see this whole thing come together like this is just really a dream come true.”
Bass Pro Shops project managers hope to have the bridge moved by the end of 2018 to a location near the mill—where the infamous “Chadwick Flyer” railroad once crossed the Finley. It will be installed following a review with the Corps of Engineers, according to a press release.
Bass Pro’s vision for the Ozark Mill property calls for a variety of amenities, including historical tours, dining, event space and riverfront access.