By Hiroko Sato
DUNSTABLE -- Ask Alan Chaney to show you the best of Dunstable's natural beauty and he may take you to the bridge over the Unkety Brook.
Since built in 2001, the bridge in the midst of the 60-acre Unkety Woods Preserve off Route 113 has provided a vantage point for enjoying the view of the stream flowing down between the thick tree lines that cast shadows on the water. People would see beavers swim through under their feet and dragonflies glide through the air.
But such scenes only can come from their memories after the bridge was found smashed to pieces in December. The lumbers that Carl Girouard, who built the bridge for his Eagle Scout project, and fellow Boy Scouts had painstakingly cut to make the deck are all ripped apart, leaving the beams exposed. The railings were also torn off and piled in the riverbed.
"This was built to last for 40 years," Chaney, who serves as the Conservation Commission chairman, blurted out frustratedly as he looked over the remnants of the bridge.
The destruction of the bridge followed a similar incident atop the Blanchard Hill preservation land off Main Street more than a year ago. The wooden sign identifying the New Hampshire mountains visible from the hilltop -- which Eagle Scout Patrick Thomas created with the help of 110 Scout troops -- was knocked down. The conservation commissioners also found one of the picnic tables that Thomas and his group built overturned and scorched.
"It's sad to see the disrespect," Michael Harney said of the destruction.
Vandalism is not limited to the conservation land. Someone has broken off the chains that blocked the entrance to Larter Field off Groton Street three times over the past two years by tying their vehicle to the chains and the posts and yanking them, according to Recreation Commissioner Jim Tully. Each time, the transgressors drove into the field and spun the tires on the grass surface. Some of the goal nets also disappeared from the complex.
But some residents are finding the vandalism on preservation properties particularly disturbing because Boy Scouts and community volunteers poured their hearts and sweat into making the places better.
"So many people in town worked really hard to preserve Dunstable," said Conservation Commissioner Leah Basbanes. "It's malicious to go after something (like this)," she said.
"What makes these people do this? I don't know," Chaney said.
Conservation commissioners cleared the top of the town-owned Blanchard Hill to make space for Thomas' project in 2010. Carrying the materials in trucks, driving up the steep hill and building the tables and sign was a lot of work. Scouts also made the trails on the hill. But those who see the panoramic view of Monadnock Mountain, Watatic Mountain and the surrounding ridges would understand why the Commission and Thomas thought it would be a good idea to create the hiking paths and the picnic area for all to enjoy.
The amenity didn't last long, however.
"I don't think these tables were here even for a month before (being vandalized)," said Harney's mother, Jody Harney, who hiked up the hill Monday afternoon.
Basbanes said a Boy Scout who was involved in the project was "furious" to hear about the vandalism.
The 2001 construction of the bridge at Unkety Woods Preserve, which the Dunstable Conservation Commission owns, took even more manpower than the Blanchard Hill project. Police Chief James Downes said a resident reported the vandalism to the Police Department on Dec. 13, noting that, while a tree fell on the bridge during the storm in October and caused some damage, the destruction from the vandalism was far more extensive. Chaney, for one, believes it took multiple people with tools to rip the bridge apart.
Sarath Krishnaswamy, Scoutmaster for Troop 28, said he hasn't told the existing scouts about what happened to the bridge because he does not want them to think the various community projects on which they are working will be short-lived.
Downes said vandalism involving damage over $250 is felony. Officers looked at the damage and spoke with some neighbors.
Girouard's father, Peter Girouard, said he told his son the bridge looked a little "ragged" after the vandalism. Carl Girouard then went to look and said to his father: "A little ragged?"
The good news is that the framework of the bridge is still there, said Peter Girouard, adding that he, his son and volunteers will reconstruct the bridge. This time, they will put screws in instead of nails so that it will be difficult to take apart, Peter Girouard said.
"Of course we will rebuild it." Chaney said, looking at the bridge. But getting across the message that such act of violence is unacceptable is first, he said. Conservation commissioners are hoping that the publicity about the incidents will help deter further vandalism. After all, it's hard to keep a secret in a small town like Dunstable.
"There's got to be more than one or two people who know about it," Chaney said.