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Old Lanier Bridge to be replaced by year's end
By CHASE SQUIRES
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2000
DADE CITY -- The Southwest Florida Water Management District plans to replace the creaky 50-year-old wooden bridge that carries hunters and hikers from River Road into the depths of the Green Swamp east of town.
The span, built sometime in the 1940s, is known as Lanier Bridge. The crossing is named for early settler James Lanier, who used slaves to construct the original span in the 1850s, local historian Bill Dayton said.
Since then, it has been replaced several times, so the history isn't in the structure as much as it is in the Lanier family name and the tradition of having a passage to the swamp at that location, Dayton said.
The water district, commonly known as Swiftmud, owns more than 110,000 acres of the Green Swamp, east of Dade City, including the bridge. The land is open to a variety of outdoor enthusiasts for hiking, horseback riding and cross-country bicycling, fishing, canoeing and controlled hunting.
Swiftmud environmental specialist Philip Rhinesmith said Monday the district plans to spend about $400,000 by the end of the year to replace the wooden span with a concrete bridge that will not only provide a safer crossing, but also eliminate some of the support posts that rise from the Withlacoochee River bed. During flood season, the posts can snag branches and restrict water flow, he said.
"The area is getting a lot of recreational use," Rhinesmith said. "This will improve access to the land and improve safety. We were worried about getting fire and rescue vehicles in there if they were needed."
The bridge is an important access point for forest fire trucks during the dry season, Rhinesmith said.
Dayton said the Lanier Bridge at one time was more than just an avenue into wild swampland. In the 1800s, the area across the bridge supported a thriving community called Ashley. Rhinesmith said in its time, the area produced timber and turpentine.
Rhinesmith said his agency must be permitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection before the structure's installation can be bid. When contractors are put to work, he said the new span will likely be hauled to the site in one or two pieces and erected quickly.
He said he hopes a plaque will remain to educate travelers about the wooded area's history.
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