A 18,500-pound prefabricated steel bridge flew high overhead the wetlands of Lake Conestee Nature Preserve just after noon on Tuesday, June 23.
Using a CH-47F Chinook heavy lift helicopter, members of the S.C. Army National Guard based at the SCARNG Aviation Support Center at Donaldson Field guided the bridge from the staging area at Belmont Fire Department to the installation site at Marrow Bone Creek — a distance of approximately 1 mile.
Funding for the construction and installation of the bridge was raised entirely by the Conestee Foundation to replace a previous bridge destroyed by flooding in November 2018, according to Dave Hargett, executive director of Lake Conestee Nature Preserve.
The Foundation has spent about $160,000 but still needs $20,000 more to complete the project, Hargett said.
For the S.C. Army National Guard, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment, the heavy lift mission presented a unique training opportunity to install a structure of this sort, simulating a military objective.
As in real life, there were unforeseen factors that came with the mission.
Uncertain weather conditions delayed the installation by more than three hours, but the flight went off without a hitch.
Lake Conestee Nature Preserve is spread out over 400 acres of old Lake Conestee and includes extensive wetlands, forests and over three miles of the Reedy River corridor. The newly-installed bridge is part of the more than 14 miles of trails that are open to the public.