Out & About: Norwich bridge project aims to ease access to Huntley Meadow

Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 09-17-2023 12:14 AM

NORWICH — In 1992, Scott McClure Miller decided to build a pedestrian bridge across Blood Brook.

On the other side of the brook from Beaver Meadow Road was Huntley Meadow, a major recreation area near downtown Norwich.

“As a kid, I always splashed through the river there, as I think a lot of kids did. It was always kind of a pain to get from one side to the other,” said McClure Miller, who was 15 at the time. “It was just one of those things as a kid that I felt that there was a need for.”

The bridge was McClure Miller’s Eagle Scout project; as part of Boy Scouts’ criteria, Eagle Scout candidates must do a project for the community. McClure Miller got the Selectboard’s approval and worked with community partners to make it happen. He found a spot on the brook near the American Legion on Beaver Meadow Road. McClure Miller selected two trees on opposite sides of the bank to use to attach cables that served as the supports for the bridge, which was 52 feet long and around 3 feet wide.

“This was a true suspension bridge, a swinging suspension bridge, based on the Golden Gate Bridge,” McClure Miller said. “I was inspired by that bridge.”

It stood and served the community for nearly two decades until Tropical Storm Irene came through in 2011, when it became structurally unsound and town officials decided to remove it. Now, a group of Norwich residents is raising money to build a new footbridge in a similar location.

“The bridge primarily is for safety,” said Don McCabe, who is leading the volunteer effort for the new bridge, which will be named the Kids Bridge. “That’s the main reason we’re doing this.”

People can access Huntley Meadow — which in addition to athletic fields also has a playground, pavilion and mountain bike trails — from Main Street and Turnpike Road, both of which have sidewalks. But the other access point across the brook, Beaver Meadow Road, does not have sidewalks in the area around where the bridge would go, McCabe said. Kids who live beyond the west bank of Blood Brook would have to walk along Beaver Meadow to Moore Lane, which could be around half a mile longer than if they were to cross the brook on a footbridge near the American Legion.

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For the last three years, McCabe has been working to grow community support and raise money to build a new footbridge. The total budget for the project is around $32,000, and so far the group has raised around $24,000, McCabe said. In order to start construction, they want to raise 90% of their budget.

The new bridge will be a 56-foot-long aluminum through truss bridge. The plan is to put the bridge near the American Legion, across the brook from the playground at Huntley Meadow.

“It will have wood decking as the walking surface and will feature small wood ramps at each end to easily access the bridge without the need for stairs,” Bridge McDowell, a resident serving as the project manager, wrote in an email. He is a semi-retired civil engineer who has been involved with the design and construction of bridges throughout his career.

After the money is raised, the group will be able to begin construction, which will be done with all volunteer labor. Once the bridge is complete, it will be donated to the townspeople, McCabe said. The group is still working out who will maintain it.

After the initial bridge was removed, McClure Miller, who still lives in Norwich where he runs the nonprofit organization World Story Exchange with his wife, Lindsay McClure Miller, had thought about repairing it himself, but new state regulations put in place after Irene made the process more complicated and expensive.

“I think I would feel proud if a bridge went back because it would be an indication that what I built was useful for the town and there are enough people that valued that resource that they want to replace it,” McClure Miller said.

Those interested in making donations can send checks made out to the Town of Norwich, Kids Bridge Project, PO Box 805, Norwich, Vt., 05055.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.