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Group works to restore Cranberry Lake footbridge - Township Journal 9/23

BYRAM. Everyone has a passion: For Brian Lanci and the rest of the Save Our Bridge team members, it’s getting all hands on deck to restore and reopen the Cranberry Lake footbridge.

The Cranberry Lake footbridge in Byram was built in 1930, but its historical ties go back to the Industrial Revolution.

“This bridge ties into the Sussex Railroad, which were the original builders of the first bridge ... . It then goes back into the iron mines, and then goes back further into the development of the Morris Canal,” said Frank Gonzalez, president of the Byram Township Historical Society. “So just with that bridge alone, there is a lot of historical significance to the township.”

When the Morris Canal was built in the early 1800s, reservoirs were needed to keep the canal from overflowing, and Cranberry Lake created. Sussex County used the canal, and soon the railroad, to transport iron.

Three bridges were built before the one that stands today. The original, built in 1903 by the Sussex County Railroad, was created to transport people across the lake to an amusement park that stood from 1902 to 1910. The railroad was bringing as many as 1,000 tourists to the area each weekend.

“The Delaware, Western and Lackawanna Railroad Company had a very large depot at Cranberry Lake and capitalized on the beauty of the area by building the Grand Hotel and a recreational center at Cranberry Lake,” according to Save Our Bridge, the nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the Cranberry Lake footbridge.

“The Delaware, Western and Lackawanna Railroad Company built an amusement park, picnic grove, dance pavilion and boat rental concession on a point of land called Frenche’s Grove. The footbridge provided the train passengers and the hotel patrons the necessary link between the depot and hotel and the recreational park. ”

The hotel burned down, and the railroad company chose to take down the original bridge in 1910. Summer homes eventually were built where the amusement park once stood, and in 1925, a second bridge was constructed to increase tourism in the area.

This bridge was reconstructed by the state in 1930. It was the first footbridge built by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and was deemed the longest suspension footbridge in the state.

The footbridge was used daily by locals until the DEP ordered it to be closed in 2019.

Save Our Bridge

Save Our Bridge was established in 2018 in an effort to restore and preserve the bridge through public awareness campaigns, fundraising, and engaging state and local elected officials.

The group hopes to secure historical designation status for the bridge and to obtain grants to pay for repair and maintenance expenses for the bridge, which is owned by the state.

A year after Save Our Bridge was established, the bridge was closed, deemed unsafe to cross. Re-opening the bridge now is another goal of the nonprofit.

Brian Lanci, vice president of Save Our Bridge, said the footbridge became a critical part of the lake’s infrastructure as well as a representation of the town’s heritage.

“We call it the bridge that spans the generations,” he said.

The group has engaged government officials and members of the community and has applied for grants.

“We’ve had a lot of obstacles but we just keep on going,” said Lanci.

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