A bicycle/pedestrian bridge over the Winooski River, a key connector in the Cross Vermont Trail and link between Montpelier and East Montpelier, celebrated ceremonial groundbreaking September 18 after being dreamed of and discussed for two decades.
The 200-foot-long, $1.2 million steel bridge will cross the river at the old railroad abutments in East Montpelier just above the Winooski Hydroelectric Dam alongside Rte. 2. The bridge project received a significant boost from Federal Highway grants administered by VTrans and awarded based on the project’s important contribution to non-motorized transportation, healthy lifestyles, connections to schools, the outdoor recreation economy and overall quality of life in the region.
“There was real doubt in the beginning if we would be able to actually use this federal grant,” recalls Greg Western, CVTA Executive Director. “Usually these sorts of grants are made to government entities or much larger organizations, who have the regular capacity to manage them and also contribute the required 20% ‘local match’ of the cost. CVTA is a very small, mostly volunteer organization – we’re just regular people. It took a lot of years but we persisted and figured out the engineering, the legal and land ownership questions, the permitting, and we raised the over $250,000 in local money needed.”
“The local match fundraising campaign began five years ago with a leadership gift in memory of Esther Salmi and Tom Smith, members of the East Montpelier trails community who are missed by many. And from there we’ve had the support of hundreds of local donors,” Western explains, “from literal bake sales all the way up to overwhelming support in town meeting votes by all the U-32 member towns, as well as Montpelier and Plainfield. We still have more fundraising to do to complete the full trail, but the bridge has always been the hard part and we’re thrilled it’s coming to fruition. It’s been a big lift, but now we’re ready to go!”
The bridge is the centerpiece of a larger project of the Cross Vermont Trail Association that will roll out over the next three years, including extending the trail further upstream towards where the rail trail picks up at Rte. 14 in East Montpelier and connecting the U-32 campus into the bike path network; also trailheads, signing and parking; access to the river for fishing and boating, and some additional walking and mountain biking loop trails.
The steel bridge and its wooden deck will be assembled off-site then installed with a crane at its planned location by CCS Constructors of Morrisville. Abutments and other construction needed will be done locally. The bicycle/pedestrian bridge is expected to be installed over the river as early as this November, with finish work at the bridge site done Spring 2021.
Attending the groundbreaking to celebrate the culmination of many years of planning and preparation together were: Rose Paul, Eric Scharnberg and Kim McKee from CVTA remembering the long road we have traveled to this point; Betsy Austin in memory of Esther Salmi and Tom Smith; Mathew Rubin of Winooski Hydroelectric Co. in memory or John Warshow; Jon Kaplan from VTrans and Bret Ladago from Vt. Dept of Fish and Wildlife, both state agencies are working closely with CVTA to allow the new trail along the river and alongside Rte. 2; staff from Senator Bernie Sanders’ office who advocated for the original federal funding that made the bridge possible; National Life Foundation represented by Beth Rusnock has also been a long time supporter of the work of CVTA.
Mayor Anne Watson spoke for all the support from City of Montpelier, noting “Now in this time of a global pandemic, we need outdoor recreation opportunities more than ever.” Also joining in celebration of the contributions of many towns were members of East Montpelier Selectboard, Berlin Conservation Commission, and the entire U-32 Cross Country team.
The purpose of the Cross Vermont Trail Association is to join together local trails throughout the Winooski River and Wells River valleys, to create a network of community greenway paths, across Vermont.