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Savings Fitch’s Bridge on Greenway Committee agenda

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GROTON – Reluctant to give up the idea of saving Fitch’s Bridge where it crosses the Nashua River, members of the Greenway Committee decided last night to approach the CPC (Community Preservation Committee) to sound it out about possible funding to repair or replace the historic span.

The decision came following the group’s meeting of Jan. 4 in which the subject of the 100 year old bridge came up.

Restoring or replacing the disused bridge is something that has long concerned various town officials with the ideal being that it could be incorporated into Groton’s walking trail network.

Such was one of the goals in trying to settle the long simmering dispute between the town and resident Al Friedrich who has blocked access to the bridge with his claims that the town had lost its right of way along Jenkins Road after the river had washed out part of its embankment.

The town finally was able to conduct a survey of the area last year but a legal settlement ended including some good news and some bad news: the town did indeed still have a right of way to the bridge but it could only be accessed by officials doing business for the town.

Thus, direct access to the bridge by the public remained blocked necessitating a more roundabout trail skirting the Nashua River.

But with one of its goals being the formation of a connection between Groton proper and West Groton, the Greenway Committee has proceeded with efforts to save Fitch’s Bridge and consequently applied for and received $60,000 in funding from the CPC in 2005 to cover the cost of preparing a preliminary design review.

Such a formal review was needed in order to apply for a federal grant from the Transportation Enhancements Program to pay for restoration of the bridge.

But with indications showing construction costs inching upward to the $1.9 million figure, the effort was called to a halt when it became unlikely that a federal grant would be made available for a project that would be deemed as not critical.

Built and installed in the late nineteenth century by the Berlin Iron Bridge Co. of Connecticut, Fitch’s Bridge is one of the few surviving examples of the company’s product and as a result, something local historians would dearly love to preserve.

“Ideally, the Greenway Committee would like to see the bridge restored,” confirmed committee chairman Marion Stoddart at the group’s meeting last week.

Stoddart made her remark to Historical Commission chairman Michael Roberts who invited the committee to meet with the CPC to discuss the possibility of receiving funding for a restoration or replacement project.

Although much of the CPC’s money has been committed to paying off the town’s debt for the purchase of the Surrenden Farms property, only a single application for funds in the coming year could mean more money might be available for Fitch’s Bridge.

With the Board of Selectmen expressing support for efforts to preserve the bridge, committee members were expected to meet with the CPC on Feb. 7.

Also at their meeting of Jan. 4, the committee met with Peter Carson on the subject of reviving Riverfest, an annual event that Carson said had been quite successful and well attended in past years.

Held in connection with Carson’s Nashoba Paddler business in West Groton, support by and partnership with the Greenway Committee in reviving the festival seemed to be a natural direction to pursue.

Carson’s proposal was echoed by Roberts who suggested that the event be held under the umbrella of a new “Founders Day” celebration that would combine the music, food, and water activities of Riverfest with historical talks and displays concentrating on the town’s settlement in 1655.

The notion played well at last week’s meeting which ended with a consensus that the new edition of the event should be held this spring and a call for a team of volunteers put out immediately so that planning can begin as soon as possible.

Those interested in volunteering to help out are urged to contact the Greenway Committee for more information.

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