June 25, 2003 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Master Gardeners from across the United States recently converged on the newly-opened Purple People Bridge over the Ohio River near Newport, Ky. The gardeners added hundreds of plants and flowers to beautify the redesigned pedestrian bridge.

The Greater Cincinnati Master Gardener Association will help maintain and care for the plants

The Master Gardeners were attending the International Master Gardener Conference in Cincinnati. Instead of going on some of the planned tours, some participants wanted to do some interactive work and the bridge project hit the spot.

“A lot of people were choosing to go on the tours but I just prefer more hands-on things,” said Don Parker of West Salem, Ohio. “This is the fun part of gardening – to get your hands into it.”

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service offices in Boone, Campbell and Kenton Counties joined the Ohio State University Extension and the OSU department of horticulture and crop sciences to sponsor the International Master Gardener Conference and the bridge project.

“We had an opportunity with this bridge,” said Dave Koester, UK Extension agent for horticulture in Campbell County. “Obviously, it’s a pretty sterile structure without any plant material on it. We just thought it would be a more enjoyable walk for people and make the bridge more interesting.”

Volunteers planted flowers all along the newly-opened pedestrian bridge

Volunteers planted flowers and plants in 34 large containers along the 418-foot bridge, as well as a 200-foot waist-high planter leading up to the bridge on the Kentucky side. Koester said they started with a little seed money to purchase the plants and took a lot of donations.

“There’s been great cooperation from greenhouses in northern Kentucky and in Cincinnati,” he said. “They all bought into this project and they’re getting some good advertisement out of it too. It’s great exposure for commercial clientele as well as the Master Gardener program.”

Some volunteers got involved in the bridge project to get ideas for a similar project back in their home state of Arkansas.

“We have a bridge back home in Little Rock over the Arkansas River that’s been discontinued for railroad use,” said Carolyn Newbern of Little Rock, Ark. “It’s scheduled to become a pedestrian bridge. We thought this would be a good opportunity for us to see if it’s something the Master Gardeners in our county want to be involved in. So far, from what we’ve seen it’s wonderful.”

Approximately 45 volunteers helped plant during the conference, but they’ll all be going home when it’s over. However, the plants still need daily attention and maintenance.

Koester said organizers put together a maintenance plan before starting their work with the planters because they wanted to be sure the plants would have continued care.

“The city of Newport has really committed to us,” he said. “They’ve bought two water trucks and of course we’re also going to maintain things with the Master Gardener’s of Greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky’s help. The plants are exposed to full sun and every kind of wind and weather imaginable and we know that. Sometimes they may even need to be watered twice a day.”

Koester said the Ohio side of the bridge will be the next focus of attention.

“I’m on a committee that’s discussing what to do on the other side of the bridge,” he said. “Right now there’s nothing to go to. Pedestrians do use this bridge to get to the stadiums in Cincinnati but that’s about it right now. But that will change soon.”