Damage to one of the county's historic covered bridges has local tourism officials concerned as they look to the wooden structures to attract hundreds of tourists to the area each year.
Driving through the 150-foot long bridge that spans Big Walnut Creek west of Greencastle, it is apparent that several of the weathered boards have come loose and some are missing, as evidenced by a large hole in one side of the bridge. Near on of the entrances, a large gap has appeared where the road meets the bottom of the bridge.
The condition of the bridge has been the topic of discussion at the last two meetings of the Putnam County Tourism Board, where officials have expressed an interest in seeing the damage repaired.
Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Karla Lawless says she's concerned that if the bridge isn't repaired soon, the damage will only get worse and the cost to repair it will continue to climb.
Lawless told the board she has received several inquiries from residents who are also concerned about the bridge. She visited the site herself this week and took pictures, which she passed around to members of the tourism board.
"There are just a lot of things on that bridge that need to be checked out," Lawless said.
Tourism officials say they feel there is little they can do as an agency, however, they believe the problems need to be addressed by someone.
"We don't want to step on anyone's toes," Lawless said. "It just needs a little TLC (tender loving care)."
Putnam County Highway Supt. Dave Sutherlin, whose department would see to any repairs, told the BannerGraphic this week that he is aware of the needs at Oakalla and that he has scheduled an engineer to come look at it.
Putnam County Commissioner Kristina Warren said the county receives $11,250 each year from the state for the maintenance and repairs to the covered bridges. Divided among the county's nine covered bridges, it comes to $1,250 for each bridge.
Currently the county has its sights on repairs to Dunbar covered bridge where Warren says about $10,000 has been spent so far.
She said the county has accumulated $70,405 in its covered bridge fund and that she would like to see the bridge repaired.
Named after a stop along what was once known as the Big Four railroad system, Oakalla Bridge was constructed in 1898 by J.J. Daniels. The single span bridge of Burr Arch construction carries drivers over Big Walnut Creek on CR 375 West in Madison Township. It's an out-of-the-way location, which has sometimes made the bridge a target for vandalism.
Lawless said that approximately 70 percent of the tourists who come to Putnam County every year to see covered bridges do so with the intention of seeing all nine of them.
"Those bridges are so very popular for people," she said.
In other business handled by the tourism board this week, members again discussed a potential survey that some feel would help the bureau refocus its goals for attracting tourists to the area.
In the last year, the bureau spent a little more than $3,000 for a meeting with officials from the tourism department at Purdue University to discuss new ideas. But when it came to paying for an all-out research study, board members rejected the idea of spending $30,000 to do it.
This week, board members again tabled a decision on the study until a future meeting.
Also, Lawless reminded the board that One Lap of America is coming to Putnam Park on Thursday, May 11. Nearly 100 souped up cars of many makes and models will converge on the race track on their journey across the United States. The public is invited to attend.
The Great Race, comprised of around 100 antique cars, is also coming to Greencastle. Their route will be Ind. 240 to the courthouse square, down Jackson and out West Walnut Street. They are scheduled to arrive on June 28.
The Putnam County Tourism Board meets at 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Meetings are conducted at the CVB office on the south side of the courthouse square in Greencastle and are open to the public.