By Jefferson Weaver
The long-awaited bridge linking Waccamaw Shores and Lake Waccamaw State Park opened with little fanfare but big crowds on Independence Day.
The 364-foot, $360,000 bridge connecting both sides of the lake had more than 100 people strolling, fishing and taking pictures along the walkway just before sunset, and reportedly saw similar crowds throughout the day. A big crowd used the bridge as a vantage point to watch the fireworks around the lake as well.
The bridge was designed and funded by the Department of Transportation and overseen by the State Parks. J.E. Thompson Construction of Whiteville constructed the wide, wooden walkway. It was approved for funding in 2016, and construction began in 2017.
The bridge project saw a number of unavoidable delays ranging from weather conditions – production of the custom-built pilings was halted after the manufacturer helped in hurricane relief efforts in Texas and Puerto Rico last year – to improper hardware provided by a state contractor.
The first visitors to the newly-opened bridge were Dennis Brisson and John Osbourne Jr. Wednesday morning. The men photographed Sue and Eric McPherson as they took the first walk across, while Pauline Dennis was the first angler to cast a line from the bridge.
A few traditionalists still fished from the dam, or waded and swam across the lake at the base of the bridge, but one veteran visitor to the mouth of the Waccamaw compared the crowd to “a pier at the beach during the spot run.”
The bridge will see a lot of business in September, as the Take the Lake fitness challenge will provide a full 16-mile loop around the lake for the first time in several years. Previously, bicyclists, walkers and runners had to make a U-turn when they reached the dam. Although TTL organizers originally planned to use the dam in the early years of the challenge, concern over water levels and mossy stonework of the 1941 structure led to a change in the route.
The bridge and trails leading from the dam to the State Park Visitors Center are bicycle friendly, but cyclists are asked to dismount and push their rides across. The walkway is also wide enough to provide wheelchair access, opening up new areas of the park for disabled persons. Motor vehicles are prohibited.
State Park Superintendent Toby Hall said earlier this year that long-term plans call for new campsites, trails and possibly a canoe/kayak launching area on park land opened up by the bridge.
The bridge site does not provide boating access, although several boaters moored there temporarily Wednesday, and at least one tried to launch a fishing boat beside the bridge. The park maintains a boat landing on Bella Coola, and the Sigmon Wildlife Boating Access Area is a short distance up Waccamaw Shores from the dam.
Park Ranger Andy Buchanan said there was a steady stream of visitors throughout the day, as lake lovers took advantage of the Independence Day holiday to check out the new bridge. Buchanan was on hand to answer questions about the park and the bridge.
He said he was happy to see the project completed and open to the public.
“I think people are really going to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a bonus for the park.”