On Saturday Jan. 26, our town will be asked to fund the demolition, abutment stabilization and replacement of Fitch's Bridge.
Well over 250 years ago, this bridge was originally built to facilitate foot, equestrian, wagon and stagecoach traffic across Nashua River just south of the Pepperell/Groton line. It has been rebuilt many times since, most recently in 1898. Today that structure is long past its usefulness as a connector between Groton and West Groton, and is now a serious liability to those who would jump from it to swim, and to those who would seek to stop them, or to help them if they are injured. This structure must be removed, and the abutments stabilized. The costs are known, and we have the budget to do the work this year.
This work will involve equipment and contractors that can, for a surprisingly modest additional cost, replace the bridge with a new structure that would last for many decades, reestablishing that connection yet again. Town Meeting will be asked to consider funding the additional cost of replacement as an option to a simple demolition project.
The replacement option would connect an impressive infrastructure of public trails in Groton to a similar, but currently unconnected, system of trails in West Groton. This single improvement would instantly create a 100+ mile network of trails that can be enjoyed by hikers, cyclists and equestrians without having to travel long stretches of busy roads.
But the connection that this physical structure would provide would be more than just a multiplier of the value of our infrastructure. It would be a defining contribution to the character of our town. Symbolically it would join two districts in a common recreational network. Both its function, and the view it would create, would celebrate a river that, not long ago was among the most polluted in our country; a river whose resurgence is largely attributed to the sheer will and determination of one of our most renowned citizens. It would create a vantage point from which to watch the activities of The Groton School's crew team, and a spectacular view of foliage in the fall and the stillness of the frozen, snow-covered river and forest in the winter. More importantly, it would be our statement that we value and invest in preserving historic travel patterns; and advance our distinction as a town that treasures outdoor recreation.
A town's character is not an accident. It is the result of the guidance, actions and investments of its citizens. It is the difference between "nice to haves' and 'need to haves'. We decide what our town will be. It is up to us either to make the investments to advance those objectives, or to forego those opportunities.
In my view, going beyond the simple demolition of this bridge by funding its replacement is our chance to make a great contribution to that character.