CLAYTON — Nestled atop forested and grassy acres, the McCarn Creek bridge shows its age.

The 160-foot-long and 60-foot-high stone-foundation crossing runs through the S. Gerald Ingerson Preserve of the Thousand Islands Land Trust, and the rusting trestle framework and decaying wood ties will soon be revived.

The revival is a culmination of a yearslong effort to restore the inactive railroad bridge and reconnect a portion of the Sissy Danforth Rivergate Trail.

In the fall, TILT was awarded a $50,000 grant from the New York State Conservation Partnership Program to support the McCarn Creek bridge renovations, but state funding only covers roughly one-third of the total project cost. TILT is pushing for a June community fundraising deadline so renovations — including the rehab of girder bearings, wood support beams, decking and safety rails — can be completed by the end of the summer.

“We’re incredibly fortunate to operate in a state that recognizes the real values that land trusts, public open spaces and outdoor recreational opportunities offer to our communities,” TILT Assistant Director Spencer T. Busler said in a statement this week. “The Conservation Partnership Program’s funding toward the McCarn Creek trestle bridge is a prime example of this recognition.”

A portion of the fundraising goal is designated for long-term maintenance of the Rivergate Trail, and is pledged to be matched with a $100,000 grant from the Northern New York Community Foundation. The matching funds will establish an endowment for the stewardship of the bridge and trail.

The bridge is currently fenced off to the public, and trail users traverse the creek beneath the bridge to make the crossing. The bridge project is part of a TILT trail extension that broke ground in 2019. The goal: Connect the village of Clayton seven miles southeast to the hamlet of LaFargeville.

Now idle for some 50 years, rail lines originating in Clayton were heavily trafficked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the dawn of extensive systems for motor vehicles. By the 1990s, Louise “Sissy” Danforth, TILT executive director at the time, launched a land acquisition campaign to develop the bygone rail landscape into a recreational trail.

An early section of the Rivergate Trail stretched from LaFargeville to Black Creek Road in the town of Clayton, and with additional land secured in 2011 — now the Ingerson Preserve — TILT previously extended the trail from Black Creek Road to the village line.

A new one-mile section of trail was completed between Clayton’s municipal limits and TILT’s Ingerson Preserve in 2019, but the trail dead-ends at the McCarn Creek bridge just outside the village — unless you wade through the water.

For more information about the project or to learn more about donating, contact TILT Director of Development and Communications Terra Bach at 315-686-5345 or

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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