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Spanning the globe

What began as a hobby quickly evolved into a business for Ron Bird of Handcrafted Garden Bridges in Mena, Ark. Bird produces wooden garden bridges and other handcrafted garden décor for clients around the world who want to improve their landscaping.

For Rod Bird, it all started with a footbridge for his wife.

Bird has built about 4,000 custom-designed bridges, mostly from Eastern and Western cedar and redwood. They are often purchased to be paired with existing yard décor, such as Koi ponds and Japanese gardens.

Bird lived in Clovis, Calif., in the late 1990s and he dabbled in woodworking while pursuing a career in information technology. He built his wife a footbridge and some other lawn ornaments for the yard and, before too long, passers-by were stopping in his driveway asking for a bridge of their own.

Within a few years, the woodworking orders overwhelmed him so much that he put his other career endeavors on the back burner. He made use of his computer skills, however, and built a website. In 2002, he launched and, within a year, about 99 percent of his business came directly from the site.

"That was the explosion of this business. Since 2003, I haven't had any time to do anything else besides woodworking. I'm very, very lucky," says Bird, who relocated to Arkansas in 2006.

The original arched footbridge designs have developed through the years into more elaborate post and rail designs. He now offers about 50 different designs and still takes custom requests. Recently, he's seen an increased interest in other items such as picnic tables, benches and cedar chests. But the bridges remain the most popular item by far.

"I think I've shipped bridges to every state in the country, as well as to Japan, Italy, many times to Canada, South America ... you name it."

Large bridges aren't easy to ship, so Bird takes them apart, labels every component and sends directions. "They're pretty easy to put back together, but the weight makes them difficult. When they're assembled, they're a few thousand pounds," says Bird.

Bird figures he's got it made as a full-time woodworker. "I do what I like to do and make a decent living. Also, it's really neat to be able to help other people do certain projects. I offer free plans on my website on how to build a garden bridge, picnic table and more."

If you're curious, Bird can sell a 2' wide x 4' long footbridge for $149, while a 5' x 40" bridge is in the neighborhood of $14,000.

Contact: Handcrafted Garden Bridges, 295 Highway 270, Mena, AR, 71953. Tel: 479-243-0375.

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue.

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