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Fraker Mill Bridge dedication set

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The Fraker Mill Bridge on the Wabash Cannonball Trail.

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DELTA - Sunday afternoon's planned dedication of the Fraker Mill Bridge on the Wabash Cannonball Trail - a former railroad turned into a walking, running, biking, and horseriding trail - has been a long time coming.

Its name goes back to 1834 when Thomas Fraker bought land near Delta's southern limits and built a log home.

A lumber and stave mill went up later to supply building materials for new homes in the area.

Jump ahead 167 years to the summer of 2001, when about a dozen members of the Northwestern Ohio Rails-to-Trails Association Inc. spent nine straight days erecting a timber-framed, covered bridge over Bad Creek near the Swancreek-York township line.

"We wanted to have a showpiece for our trail," said Bonnie Markley of the 40-mile trail that runs from Williams County to the Maumee area. "And that seemed the perfect site for one."

Even with members' donated labor, the 60-foot bridge cost $25,000. So the rails-to-trails groups decided that naming rights for the bridge would go to the largest donor.

That fund-raising all took time. And when it became clear the honor belonged to the Fraker descendants, including Sandra Mason, who is active with the rails-to-trails group, it took more time to arrange for the perfect "Fraker Mill" signs for the bridge.

Thus, Sunday's dedication falls more than five years after the bridge was built.

But it's so much more than the rails-to-trails group had anticipated at the organization's beginning.

The group began as the Friends of the Wabash-Cannonball Trail in 1991 with the goal of picking up trash and trimming brush.

And then it, well, bridged into much larger projects, the keynote of which became the Fraker Mill Bridge.

"In retrospect, it's just amazing," Mrs. Markley said of the fact that the group was able to get a dozen members to devote nine days to the construction, which was supervised by local expert Ken Matesz. "Sort of like Tinker Toys, only on a really big scale. We had to have a crane lift some of those extremely heavy timbers."

The late Gene Markley was the push behind many of those efforts, and after he died of injuries from a vehicular crash, the group dedicated about 5 miles of the trail, from Fulton Road 6-3 to Fulton County Road 11, which includes the covered bridge, as the Gene Markley Corridor.

"My husband - it just became a mission for him. That became his life," Mrs. Markley said.

From the cinder trail through Fulton County, fitness and nature enthusiasts can see landscapes ranging from corn fields to wetlands to woods and enjoy wildlife, such as deer and numerous birds, and many wildflowers.

"There's so much to see, and it's very quiet, very peaceful," said Mrs. Markley, a retired teacher.

And for the Fraker family, it's full of memories.

Generation after generation, young Fraker descendants have gathered blackberries, mushrooms, and wildflowers in the area of the bridge.

"Bad Creek presented turtle hunting, and for more adventurous children, tubing down the creek when the water was high from spring rains," said Mrs. Mason, whose mother, Herma Jane Hunt, was a Fraker.

The rails-to-trails group wants to build another covered bridge, similar to the Fraker Mill Bridge, on the trail in Williams County. But it does not yet have the $100,000 or so that is expected to be needed.

And it too might be a long time coming.

Contact Jane Schmucker

at: jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.

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