Andover's Bridge To Somewhere

More Than A Decade In The Making, Covered Bridge On Hop River Trail Becomes Reality

As I stood on the trail and wondered whether or not I should venture forth, I felt like I was a kid again standing on the edge of a freshly frozen pond. Back then, I would stretch one leg out, touching the surface of the ice and gingerly putting my weight on it, listening for that deep, rumbling echo that would determine my next step.

Decades later, I was standing before the newly built Andover covered bridge spanning Route 316, half disbelieving it was really in front of me. I pinched my arm. I rubbed my eyes. I put one foot in front of the other. I told myself I wasn't going to be like Wile E. Coyote and get halfway across the span, only to discover it was just a mirage and wave goodbye as I plunged into a cloud of dust far below. Out of the corner of my eye, I swear I saw a pig flying by.

Then I saw a man on a bike ride past. He didn't fall in. A few moments later, a woman jogging with her baby in a stroller made it across. I walked halfway out. I jumped up and down. I may have dislodged some dust in the rafters, because my eyes teared up.

The Andover covered bridge was really here.

This was state Rep.Pamela Z. Sawyer's dream and I was on board from the beginning in 2002, when I wrote a column about her securing a state grant for a bridge over the gap in the Hop River linear trail that runs from Manchester to Willimantic.

But as the years rolled past and the bridge got caught up in bureaucracy, more and more people gave up on the dream. Even I had my low moments, writing in a 2006 column: "Just don't look for me to say exactly when anymore. Again. Ever. See you at the ribbon-cutting ceremony sometime in the future."

That future is the present. Over the winter, pieces of the bridge arrived. By spring, the bridge had been completed. Last Friday night began its slow crawl down to the abandoned railroad abutments, where it will sit and carry generations of trail enthusiasts across its span. On Saturday morning, before a crowd of fellow dreamers, the bridge was lowered into place.

"It's such a vivid contrast," Sawyer said of seeing the empty abutments replaced by people walking, joggins and riding horses across the bridge. "The bridge went up and within moments people were gravitating to it. No longer is it a dangerous impediment."

The bridge, built by Echo Bridge Inc. of Elmira, N.Y., will carry travelers along the former Hartford, Providence & Fishkill Railroad to Willimantic or Manchester and Vernon without leaving the path. As a result, the spot went from one of the most embarrassing gaps in the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway to the most proud – a place now known as the "lone covered bridge" along the greenway.

Never again will I doubt someone's dream. No matter how long it takes. Sawyer's dream outlasted three governors, five state Department of Transportation commissioners and four Andover first selectmen.

"And me," she added.

One dreamer is all it takes for something to become a reality. And I can safely say – 10 columns later — this will be the last time I write about the little covered bridge that could in Andover.

Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365 or pmarteka@courant.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.

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