Nature's Path & Way To Go
6:57 PM EDT, May 10, 2012
It's almost that time of year to gather around the ol' campfire and tell the tale of the ghost bridges of Mansfield Hollow.
What? You've never heard about the ghost bridges of Mansfield Hollow? How, on nights of the full moon, you can hear them creaking and groaning as the waters of the Fenton River bubble underneath them like a witch's caldron? How on stormy nights down in the Hollow the ash-gray bridges will seemingly appear out of nowhere when a bolt of lightning crackles nearby and a faceless man stands in the middle of the span?
OK, so they aren't really haunted. But one's imagination tends to wander when one is used to crossing rivers and streams by using log or wooden bridges while hiking. But along the east branch of the Nipmuck Trail in Mansfield are two Warren Pony truss bridges that carry the Connecticut Forest & Park Association Blue-Blazed trail across the Fenton River.
I'm a fan of railroads and hiking abandoned rail lines, so the truss bridges — popular with rail builders — have always been a favorite of mine. The huge, rusted iron beams, the struts and the huge bolts that keep it all together are like an Erector set — one of my favorite toys growing up. And to find not one, but two, while hiking in the great outdoors is a special treat.
Known simply as Iron Bridge South and Iron Bridge North on the map, the bridges were relocated in the late 1990s from streets around Mansfield by the town's department of public works. The south bridge once crossed Mount Hope River. The north bridge crossed the Willimantic River.
So when the two bridges needed to be replaced, instead of melting them down or selling them for scrap, the town sought out a grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection and moved them to the Nipmuck Trail. It's one of the greatest recycling projects I've ever heard of.
Both bridges were built by the Berlin Construction Co. in 1901 and are some of the earliest examples of truss spans in the state. Other neat bridges built by the company and incorporated in hiking areas across the state include the "Red Bridge" along Meriden's Quinnipiac River Gorge Trail and a beautiful red iron bridge at Lovers Leap State Park in New Milford.
The Nipmuck Trail travels from Mansfield State Park across northeastern Connecticut to Union and the Massachusetts border. The trail snakes along the picturesque Fenton River for miles. Visitors traveling north along the trail from Mansfield Hollow State Park reach the south bridge first, the more dramatic of the two bridges. The gray bridge seems almost ghostly set off against the green backdrop of spring and the dark waters of the river.
The trail leaves the river briefly and heads into the forest to an overlook. Visitors are treated to an interesting juxtaposition from the overlook. On the eastern side of the trail is a peaceful marsh; on the western side is the swollen Fenton River traveling loudly through the forest.
The northern bridge is smaller than its southern counterpart and barely rises above the surface of the water, giving those who cross it a bit of a hairy adventure especially during times the river is high. From here, visitors can continue their way north along the trail to "50 Foot Rock" and its views of the valley, or they can take Fenton River Trail, a path marked with white blazes. The path winds its way past bogs and through forests and returns to the Nipmuck.
So take a trip to these ghost bridges and let your imagination flow. Then return home, build a campfire and spin a haunted tale of the bridges of Mansfield Hollow.
Route 195 to Mansfield. Take Route 89 (Warrenville Road) to a parking area to the north of Southeast Elementary School. The trail entrance is on the opposite side of Route 89. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365 or firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.
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