Anonymous donor a ‘good community steward’
Big things rarely happen in the Village of English Center, so when an anonymous donor gave a total of $40,000 toward a county bridge project this year, their generosity was a big deal.
Located along Little Pine Creek, English Center’s poplulation fluctuates because most of the homes are seasonal. Only about 30 people or so call this place home permanently.
Max Harlan, a Pine Township supervisor who has lived in the area all his life, went to a one-room school that was located there. Now there is no school, in fact there are no children. There are no stores either, at least not in the village, although there is a working coal mine on a nearby mountainous road.
So why would someone invest in the community life of such an unpopulated area by offering to help pay for work to be done on a nearby bridge?
“In the 32 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never had that happen before,” said Mark Murawski, who recently retired as Lycoming County’s transportation supervisor.
Calling the donor a “good community steward,” Murawski said that the impetus behind the gift was that the donor wanted to see the bridge fixed quickly, but for the long term. The donor also specified that they were to remain anonymous.
“That was their wishes and a condition” of the donation that will be given in increments of $20,000 a year for two years, he said.
What is so special about this bridge? To the residents of the village, it is just a back way to get to Oregon Hill Road. If the bridge was not there, traffic would have to come in from that road, which Harlan noted is not suitable for large trucks to travel.
“That road is not suitable for big trucks. There are little bridges. Only personal vehicles can go on it,” he said.
Local residents don’t use the bridge all that much, except maybe for a Sunday drive, according to Harlan.
Mary Winters, who has lived in English Center for 58 years, admitted that she has rarely used the bridge.
She’s the treasurer of the village’s community center, which also serves as the local voting place, and was on the election board for many years. She has raised her family here and, in fact, most of them still live nearby. Her one son works for the mining company, so he needs to travel across the bridge to work.
“It’s not a fancy bridge,” she said, noting she was surprised when she heard that someone had made such a generous donation to repair the structure.
“I thought it was great,” she said of the bridge that allows hunters to access hunting areas on state game lands.
The difficulties with the bridge began prior to 2010 when the floor of the structure was an open grid. The open floor allowed debris to fall through and collect on the undergirding. That, in turn, weakened the bridge’s capacity to carry heavier loads.
Repairs were made to the bridge through the federal Transportation Department, which offered to install an experimental material on the deck. A fiberglass-like material, the new deck could be installed quickly and the federal department paid for the job with the idea that the county would report to them how the material was holding up, Murawski said.
“Over time, we started discovering problems,” he said, and the bridge needed to be re-repaired.
In order to make the repairs, the bridge was shut down for almost two weeks, Harlan said. The mining company actually parked vehicles on the one side of the bank and workers would leave their personal vehicles on the other side and walk over to get in the company’s vehicles, he said.
“The state’s legal load for bridges is 40 tons,” Murawski noted. If a bridge cannot carry that, then the bridge has problems, he added.
One reason to keep the bridge in good condition is safety, Murawski said.
He noted that since the re-repair of the bridge has been completed, the weight limit is now 40 tons and emergency vehicles from the Morris Fire Company can cross the bridge.
There has been conjecture on the part of the residents as to who “anonymous” could be.
Harlan said maybe it’s someone associated with the mining company, or perhaps a local campground which owns a property they rent adjacent to the bridge.
“Maybe it’s someone who grew up here and made it big and this is their way to pay it forward,” he said. He added that it might even be someone who is still in the area.
“I don’t know anyone here who could do that,” Winters said about the possibility of it being a local resident.
Both Harlan and Winters said they don’t know who the unknown benefactor is, and that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that someone saw a need in their community and, for whatever reason, stepped in to help.