By Caitlyn Meisner | Copy Editor
The City of Waco opened the newly renovated Waco Suspension Bridge Saturday morning to a crowd of hundreds.
The city hosted the two-day event directly at the bridge and Indian Springs Park, where it had picnic tables, outdoor games and food trucks for attendees on the breezy and sunny day.
With no clouds in the sky, Wacoans and nearby Texans happily waltzed to the event as the festivities began. Some of the attendees knew to show up early to grab a good spot, including a group of retirees.
Glenda, Brenda and Linda — all of whom have either grew up in the city or moved here over 30 years ago — have been to their fair share of Waco events, they said.
Glenda and Linda said they attended the concerts at the bridge Friday night and were one of the first people at Indian Springs Park on Saturday. They said they brought their friend Brenda along for the official ribbon cutting.
“It’s a memorable, historic thing,” Brenda said. “When my husband and I moved here, we just did stuff — find out about the city, see what’s going on. Of course it’s grown a lot.”
While awaiting the 11 a.m. ribbon cutting ceremony, the women talked about their grandchildren, old photo albums, who they recognized at the event and most importantly, the longhorns slated for the cattle drive across the bridge.
As the food trucks started handing out free food, the speakers began to commemorate and recognize the hard work and dedication it took from everyone on the project to complete this massive undertaking.
Waco’s mayor, Dillon Meek, said he was happy to see the turnout of the crowd to celebrate the reopening of the bridge. He recognized the elected officials that were in attendance, including Texas state representative Charles “Doc” Anderson, and city council members Andrea Barefield, Alice Rodriguez, Josh Borderud, David Horner and Jim Holmes.
“What’s old is new again,” Meek said. “This is really a special place for my family because this is where my wife and I got married.”
Meek also said he is reminded of the rich history of the bridge as the city gathered together.
“I love the story of how this bridge came to be, and it was because the community came together and said, ‘We need to figure out a way to get from one side of this river to the other,'” Meek said. “It’s a story of strategy and community coming together to solve problems, which I think is so emblematic of what Waco’s about.”
Meek explained that the bridge represents so much more to the city than just a “practical solution to a transportation problem.”
“It was also a symbol of Waco’s growth and development during the 19th century,” Meek said. “As Waco became a bustling commercial center, the construction of this bridge was a bold and innovative project.”
He continued to describe the bridge as a force to be reckoned with, just like the city during all of its trials and tribulations.
“This city has faced a handful of challenges over the years, but it’s always risen above with grit and determination and goodness along the way,” Meek said. “This is a new era. It is a testament to our resilience, innovation and forward-thinking of all of our citizens.”
Thomas Balk, assistant director of parks and recreation for the city, spoke next. He said it has been a “humbling privilege” to be on the team for the project since 2016.
“There’s so many steps to go into getting here today, so thank you again for the visionary leadership of our council and management teams over that period,” Balk said. “We knew how much we loved this bridge and how much it means to our community. But in 2015, we didn’t really know what all the bridge needed; we just knew that there had been this long-standing tradition of generational care.”
Balk detailed some of the repairs that needed to be made, including decking, cable replacements — which hadn’t been done since 1914 — and steel. He said he was thankful to the City of Waco and the engineers and subcontractors that made the finished product possible.
“All of that came together in a way that very subtly gives us those performance improvements that we need to safely put the public out here, have our signature events, have more weddings,” Balk said.
After the speakers, the pathway to the bridge was cleared for the incoming cattle drive and ribbon cutting. Mayor Meek made the cut and was surrounded by the elected officials present.
Then the cattle drive commenced. It started on the Washington Avenue Bridge, then turned onto the Suspension Bridge to finish. The herd of cattle, cowboys and horses finished where they started on Indian Springs Park.