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Recreation paths important to communities

November 25, 2015 - Andy Flynn
This week: 422

Sept. 15: 420

Difference: +2

There it sits, a mass of rust-colored steel and black asphalt, hovering above the East Branch of the AuSable River, connecting the Gristmill Road with the Hull’s Falls Road in the tiny hamlet of Keene. Yet the Walton Bridge, as I’ve found out, is much more than a bridge. It’s the heart of the community.

I was excited to cover the dedication ceremony of the new Walton Bridge for the Lake Placid News. The old bridge was washed away during the flooding of Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. But I didn’t know the true meaning of this structure until I saw the residents of Keene gather around it. They were drawn to it in a spiritual way.

As a visitor, I was attracted to the bridge by its history. The old bridge was unique in its design and had been destroyed in a similar fashion as the one it replaced in the fall of 1924, with flooding along the river valley.

Both replacement bridges had been re-purposed. The old bridge, dating to 1890, was originally from Black Brook and was closed to vehicular traffic in 1990 because of safety concerns, but the residents still crossed it while running, walking their dogs and bicycling. The new one was installed in 1993 in AuSable Forks and had to be downsized in order to transform it from a vehicular to a pedestrian bridge.

Yet this bridge cost the federal government about $900,000, all for a pedestrian bridge seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

“That’s a lot for a pedestrian bridge, but it’s an important pedestrian bridge,” said Keene Supervisor Bill Ferebee. “It’s something that people come to our town to walk across.”

I agree. That’s a lot of money for a non-essential bridge that most people would never see or use as they travel along the Route 73 corridor between Lake Placid and the Adirondack Northway. Yes, some tourists make the spot a destination, but this bridge isn’t for them. It’s for the people of Keene.

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Community loops

Every small town in the Adirondacks has its popular recreation path. People walk, run, bike along it for their physical, mental and spiritual health. They either go solo — that’s their alone time — or they take along their dogs, kids, friends and partners. It’s a social place. They catch up with neighbors. They see old friends and meet new ones.

The 2-mile Walton Bridge loop is Keene’s popular recreational path. Starting at Cedar Run Bakery on Route 73, it follows the river up the west bank along the Gristmill Road and down the east bank along the Hull’s Falls Road to the ADK Cafe, crossing the river at the state highway to make the walk a true loop.

“I ran the other side this morning on my morning run,” Keene resident Willie Janeway said while waiting to cross the bridge from the Gristmill Road side, “but I resisted the effort to go over it because I wanted to make sure the ribbon was cut first.”

Now picture Lake Placid’s 2.7-mile walking loop around Mirror Lake or Saranac Lake’s 1.2-mile loop around Moody Pond or Tupper Lake’s 4-mile Square, which is not really a square and is only 3.2 miles. These are the popular recreational routes in the Tri-Lakes.

Put a barrier along any one of those routes and see how it affects the rhythm of the community. Imagine if people couldn’t walk around Mirror Lake anymore. People’s lives would be turned upside down. There’s nothing quite like that loop in the Olympic Village.

There’s something about a loop that makes it attractive. You don’t have to backtrack and see the same scenery, and having a destination of finishing where you started, without turning around, is motivational. Turning around at the summit of the mountain with breathtaking scenery is certainly a lot more exciting than turning around at the former site of a bridge.

When the old Walton Bridge washed away, there were some people who braved the frigid water to cross the river, keeping their loop intact, but most people didn’t go to that extreme. With their loop gone, it left a deep hole. It tore out the heart of this community.

If you could have seen the faces of the people who attended the dedication ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 21, you would have noticed wider smiles and brighter twinkles in their eyes. There was a bigger bounce to their step. You could truly see how much this hunk of steel means to the community.

When some families attended the ceremony, they didn’t just drive their cars up to the bridge, park, walk over the bridge and back, and then drive home. They walked up the Gristmill Road, crossed the bridge, and walked down the Hull’s Falls Road. They made this occasion one to remember by taking ownership once again of the Walton Bridge loop.

 
 

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Blog Photos

Keene residents walk down the Gristmill Road after participating the in dedication ceremony for the new Walton Bridge Saturday, Nov. 21. The installation of the new bridge resurrected a popular 2-mile walking loop that was destroyed in August 2011 when floodwaters from Tropical Storm Irene washed away the old bridge crossing the East Branch of the AuSable River. The bridge connects Gristmill Road with Hull’s Falls Road. (News photo — Andy Flynn)