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Restored bridge in New London, Minn., to be featured on gardening program

A covered bridge that sits atop the Middle Fork Crow River will be featured on tonight’s episode of “Prairie Yard & Garden” on Pioneer Public Television. The old bridge has been restored by Ken and Kay Johnson of rural New London, and they use it on a daily basis for a getaway spot, as well as hosting public events on the bridge. (Submitted photo)

NEW LONDON — Tucked away on their farm in rural New London, right down the hill from their quaint, log cabin home, Ken and Kay Johnson possess their own little slice of heaven: a covered bridge that sits atop the Middle Fork Crow River.

They acquired the bridge from the town six years ago, after it was deemed a danger because cars kept running into it. The road is now closed to traffic.

“We owned land all the way around the bridge, but when I said I would buy it, it was more of a joking gesture,” Ken Johnson said. “And then two days later, the papers were in the mail.”

Ken grew up on the same land and has memories of playing near the bridge in the summers. His wife of 44 years, Kay Johnson, grew up on a farm in Grove City and has a similar love of nature. She was only too happy to help make the bridge their own.

An avid gardener, Kay has planted perennials all around the bridge, including clematis, sedum, phlox and daisies. Four years ago, the couple covered the bridge with a roof made of tin from Kay’s family farm and red boards from a building that once stood on Ken’s family’s land.

“We both have part of our family farms in that bridge,” Ken Johnson said. “We have quite a heritage, and we wanted that to be a part of the bridge.”

Now, Ken and Kay Johnson are ready to share their unique garden bridge with viewers of “Prairie Yard & Garden,” a 30-minute television show about gardening in the Upper Midwest, produced by the University of Minnesota, Morris. The show will also focus on Kay’s other gardens at their home. It airs at 7 p.m. tonight on Pioneer Public Television.

“We saw the bridge as something unique,” said Roger Boleman, producer of Prairie Yard & Garden. “It’s a beautiful setting, how they’ve incorporated various plants but really kept the character of the bridge intact. People tuning in will see a unique use of a space that most people wouldn’t consider. Since we shot the program in August, it will be nice for viewers to see all that color in the middle of winter.”

Even now, during the blustery cold months, the bridge acts as an escape from the couple’s day-to-day responsibilities. Ken owns a small antique furniture restoration business, and Kay works a demanding full-time job in Willmar. For both, the bridge serves as a refuge from the chaos that can easily take over their lives, and they make time to visit it every day.

“It’s a good release from work,” Kay Johnson said. “We go out there every day, even if it’s just 10 minutes for a cup of coffee or a short walk. It’s nice to have a place to find that peace and tranquility that comes from nature.”

Ken and Kay also host many events on the bridge, especially in the summer months. They’ve had a bluegrass band play on the bridge for friends, family and customers, they hosted the Willmar Car Club and they even held a wedding on the bridge and plan to rent it out for more weddings and receptions in the future.

For two people who have always loved the serenity that nature can offer, owning their own covered bridge has been a surreal experience. They don’t take it for granted and want to share their good fortune with friends and neighbors.

“We always tell people, ‘Dreams do come true,’” Ken Johnson said. “This bridge is one of our dreams.”

Ken and Kay Johnson’s segment on “Prairie Yard & Garden” airs tonight at 7 p.m. on Pioneer Public Television. 

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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