COLUMBIA — To help his children get to school safely on rainy days, Cliff Tompson built a bridge from scratch.
"My wife says, 'Cliff, why don't you build a bridge?' And I said, 'Sure,'" said Tompson, a retired MU physics professor.
Tompson built the first bridge in Stewart Park in 1966. He has lived in the house across from the park for almost 50 years, and his children went to Grant Elementary School in the 1960s.
"When heavy rain comes to Columbia, they either got muddy or took a long trip around Broadway, and neither was very satisfying," Tompson said.
The idea of building a bridge across the park emerged, and Tompson talked to a few people in the neighborhood, asking for their opinions. Then he built the bridge structure in his backyard.
"It's just handling boards and nails," Tompson said.
His neighbors helped install the bridge in the park after Tompson finished building it. It remained there for a long time before it wore out from exposure to the weather. In the early 1990s, a group of neighbors replaced the bridge with a new one designed by Alden Redfield, who lived across the park.
In July of 2009, yet another bridge was installed as a replacement.
"The second bridge was actually in good shape; the problem was that the creek was eroding the banks," said Lou Mazzocco, another resident who designed the third bridge with Tompson's help.
The Park Hill Neighborhood Association's bridge board decided it was time to make a replacement.
"They know I like to build stuff, remodeling my house, so they asked me," Mazzocco said.
The new bridge is twice as long as the previous one and wider, and it has sloped ends to make it more convenient for bike riders and people with disabilities. Another change was the installment of concrete piers to steady the bridge, allowing it to endure water erosion for a longer period of time.
"The bridge is wooden, but on either side are 18-inch by 6-foot concrete piers with 3- by 5-f0ot pier caps that the bridge sits on," Mazzocco said.
Mazzocco started building the bridge in late spring of 2009. He received help from his neighbors and family members — his father and three nephews, Jake, Ted and Drew Nichols, helped pour the concrete.
Not only did the residents help with the physical building process, they also supported the project financially.
"We had funds from donations," said Sarah Sandkuhl, current president of Park Hill Neighborhood Association, which owns and maintains the park.
A basket was set up at the bridge to collect donations, Sandkuhl said. While most of the donations came from people in the neighborhood, some people that use the bridge but live elsewhere donated money as well.
Because Stewart Park is private, any proposed changes to the park require community consent. As a whole, the community has supported the project from beginning to end.
"Most people think of a neighborhood as a bunch of houses, but these are real people who would contribute and make a commitment, and that's really neat," Tompson said. "That's why we've lived here for so long."