by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – If there was any question as to whether holding a two-and-a-half hour-long workshop on a Saturday afternoon to discuss the future of the pedestrian bridge capture people’s interest, those concerns were put to rest by a robust turnout. At least 41 people attended last Saturday’s “Community Workshop in Hardwick to Plan for the Future of the Historic Downtown Pedestrian Bridge.” The event was divided into five segments.
The first was the optional “Walk and Talk” which was designed to educate people about what forced the bridge to close last fall. Planning Commission Chair Dave Gross, landscape architect David Raphael, and Bob Neeld, Professional Engineer at Engineering Ventures, hosted a small group on the South Main Street end of the bridge. Beyond answering questions, the three shared their own experiences and memories of the bridge. Raphael suggested that at this preliminary stage, without any cost parameters established, it was okay to think big. That theme would be revisited several times throughout the day. He also encouraged people to think of bridges as destinations: places people visit because of unique factors such as aesthetics and location, and where the bridge provides a singular experience that stays in people’s minds.
Raphael, Neeld, and select board chair Eric Remick gave a brief introduction under a tent in the Daniels Building parking lot, adjacent to the bridge’s entrance. Refreshments were on hand, donated by Front Seat Coffee, the Buffalo Mountain Co-op, the Village Market, and Jasper Hill Farm, including a small lemonade stand staffed by children. The tent was paid for through a $500 donation from the Golub Foundation, the charitable arm of the same group that owns Price Chopper, according to select board and downtown commission member Shari Cornish. The Galaxy Bookshop provided a microphone for the workshop.
From the introductory session, it was clear residents valued the bridge’s aesthetics and characteristics and wished to preserve them as much as possible. One person asked about repurposing the bridge’s stanchions in the final project. Others brought up the bridge’s tendency to swing, which some people said they enjoyed, while others did not.
Next, select board member and Hardwick Historical Society President Elizabeth Dow gave “Some History,” a brief narrative about the town’s bridges from a historical perspective. Then attendees divided into three groups, led by Cornish, Dow, and Gross. Each group was tasked with considering community expectations for the replacement bridge and coming up with ideas for improving the site.
All three groups preferred a suspension-style bridge, and the consensus was that the new bridge should pay homage to the old one without being a direct replica. Cornish’s group was “very fond” of the current bridge’s aesthetics and wanted something unique to the town so people would want to visit it. That group favored a custom-designed bridge, specifying “nothing cheesy.” Remick’s group wanted something similar to the current bridge, but wider, to accommodate bikes, noting the upcoming Lamoille Valley Rail Trail’s completion. The current bridge is just four feet two inches wide. That group also wanted a “flare” in the middle of the bridge so people could stop and look over the river. Gross’ group agreed both with a widened, bike-friendly bridge, and an “observational opportunity on the bridge itself.” The group summarized part of its design philosophy with the equation “attractiveness equals income,” meaning the more attractive the bridge, the more likely it is to prove a revenue-generator for the town.
Residents agreed that replacing the bridge would provide an opportunity to improve access to the river; an important consideration for all. Gross’ group envisioned a terraced green space on the riverfront. That group also suggested enhancing the bridge’s entryways. Cornish’s group also expressed interest in the new design affording access to the Lamoille River.
The three groups generally agreed on practical concerns. All three wanted the bridge to be low-maintenance, helping meet its stated goal of a one-hundred-year lifespan. People also agreed that the design process should include simplifying snow removal for the structure, with Remick’s group suggesting investigating whether it was feasible to make the replacement bridge plowable. Remick’s group also wanted to make sure the bridge was ADA-accessible, a point Gross’ group also raised. Gross’ group also wanted planners to think about resilience and resistance to flood events.
After presenting their thoughts, Remick, Raphael, and Neeld fielded some final questions. Remick was asked about a timeline and funding, and he said at this point both are in flux. Neeld said once funds and permits are secured, it could take a year and a half to two years to complete the new bridge, which surprised and disappointed some residents. Affection for the previous bridge translated into enthusiasm and optimism for the new one, with updates coming soon on the workshop’s feedback combined with over 30 mailed responses to a survey.