By Madeline Hughes
A project years in the making recently got underway in Shelburne village, out of sight of passersby.
With the parking lot at Shelburne Shopping Park as a staging area, dozens of volunteers have been methodically hauling building materials a half mile or so into the woods. Their destination: the bank of the LaPlatte River, where a group of Shelburne residents is building a bridge connecting trails on both sides of the LaPlatte Nature Park and the Gardenside and Rivercrest neighborhoods to the east.
Joplin James organized the effort to make this new bridge a reality. The notion of a bridge began in winter 2011 when a large ash tree fell across the LaPlatte, creating a natural bridge that he and others began using to get from their neighborhoods to Shelburne village. It even got a makeshift railing at one point.
James, a former teacher at Shelburne Community School, would take the natural bridge to walk to school with a group of students on Wednesdays. About 15 to 20 kids would join him each week.
In May 2013 a storm dislodged the tree, prompting James to decide to build a permanent bridge. More than five years later, that dream is becoming a reality.
The final design is for a bridge 76 feet long and 30 inches wide. The east bank of the river is steep, so Jones said there will be consideration for stairs to make access easier. The wooden suspension bridge will be held up by cables on each side anchored to trees, as well as supports in the ground.
The group hired Scott Silverstein of Perch Engineering to design the pedestrian bridge. Silverstein has helped through the process, even being on call during the weekend building sessions, James said.
The group of first-time volunteer bridge-builders has been “figuring out stuff as we go along,” James said. Now the project “seems very realistic. We have overcome most of the hurdles and have most of the materials on site now,” he said.
The group raised the initial goal of $5,000 in donations from more than 60 people. That paid for building materials and engineering. A few more unexpected costs popped up during the last few months, so Jones is hoping to raise more money. The group is still accepting donations for the project, James added.
Maintenance and upkeep for the bridge will be done by a core group of eight volunteers who have been with the project including James, he said.
Now teaching at Champlain Valley Union High School this year, James won’t be using the bridge to walk to work anymore. However, with a more reliable bridge across the LaPlatte, James said he hopes people will use it to travel by foot into the village.
Kevin Boehmcke said his children, Ryan, 14, and Kate, 12, definitely will take it from their neighborhood to school and the village.
“I’m going to be so much more comfortable with them walking across this bridge,” Boehmcke said. “It’s safer than walking down Irish Hill Road to cross the river.”
Ryan, who is in eighth grade, said the constructed bridge might not be as “cool” as crossing the river on a tree, but he is excited to be able to bike on the LaPlatte trails into the village.
Also, people who may have had balance issues will have a sturdy bridge to walk on, Ryan said.
Kate, a seventh grader, said the new bridge will be safer, and she is less likely to get muddy and wet while walking to school.
The bridge committee plans an opening celebration in November.