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The people's bridge

Keene residents celebrate new bridge over AuSable

November 25, 2015
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor ( , Lake Placid News

KEENE - More than 70 people gathered at the new Walton Bridge for a dedication ceremony Saturday, Nov. 21, re-opening a popular 2-mile walking loop that was destroyed when the old bridge washed away during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.

It's been more than four years of rebuilding since Irene's floodwaters damaged roadways, bridges and buildings in the Ausable River Valley. Much of the infrastructure, including a new home for the Keene Volunteer Fire Department and a new bridge crossing state Route 73 over the East Branch of the AuSable River, has been replaced.

The Walton Bridge is named for Walton Brook, which empties into the river a short distance downstream. Located about 1 mile upstream from that Route 73 bridge, the new Walton Bridge is the latest achievement in the rebuilding effort, according to Keene Supervisor and Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Ferebee.

Article Photos

Residents cross the new Walton Bridge in Keene on Saturday, Nov. 21.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

"It's just another step to recovering from Irene," Ferebee said Saturday after crossing the newly opened bridge. "That's the biggest gain that we have, and to get back the walking trail that the town is accustomed to walking. We have tourists that come because it's a scenic walk."

Yet the rebuilding is not complete. A section of the Hull's Falls Road, a short distance downstream from the Walton Bridge, is still damaged from Irene and needs to be fixed. It's been reduced to one lane of traffic for the past four years. The town is waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's approval to get the work completed, according to Ferebee.

The Walton Bridge connects the Gristmill Road to the Hull's Falls Road.

"One of the selling points, I think, to get this done was the fact that we reused the bridge out of the town of Jay, which saved FEMA money," Ferebee said. "It's reusing something instead of scrapping this bridge."


New bridge

The new Walton Bridge was moved from AuSable Forks, where it had been used by vehicles - in a single lane - to cross the East Branch of the AuSable River behind the Jay Town Hall on the Grove Road. Installed in 1993, it was known as the Rolling Mill Hill-Grove Bridge. Essex County Department of Public Works employees, under the direction of Superintendent Chris Garrow, moved the structure, which was also damaged during Tropical Storm Irene and failed to meet safety standards. The new two-lane Rolling Mill Hill-Grove Bridge was dedicated on May 8 this year.

"It was Chris and his staff who removed this bridge from the town of Jay and took it to Lewis, where the DPW modified this bridge," Ferebee told the crowd while giving thanks to the people who helped with the project.

While in Lewis, the bridge was downsized to be used as a pedestrian bridge in Keene. The contractor for the project was Harrison & Burrowes, which specializes in bridges, and the total cost will be about $900,000, according to Ferebee.

"Even though this is a FEMA project, the project has to be funded first, and the Essex County Board of Supervisors did allow this project to fall under the bridge bond, so they paid for this up front," Ferebee told the crowd. "FEMA will then reimburse the county."

Persuading FEMA that this bridge needed to be replaced was a struggle.

"The struggle was convincing them that this was not an abandoned bridge," Ferebee said. "It was red-flagged a number of years ago so the vehicular traffic was not allowed, so it was made a pedestrian bridge."

The town had records and prove that the bridge had been improved with new planking decades ago and therefore was not abandoned. Letters from residents and lobbying efforts from politicians such U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, state Sen. Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec helped sway FEMA's decision. Stec attended the Nov. 21 ceremony and crossed the new bridge with Keene resident Pete Fish.

"It gives a little more faith in our government to help us fund projects," Ferebee said. "Even though it was a four-year project, we got it done."

Keene residents Dave Mason and Jim Herman were also instrumental in getting the project complete and helped Ferebee with the ceremonial cutting of a red ribbon.


Old bridge

The Walton Bridge that was washed away during Tropical Storm Irene was built in 1890 in the town of Black Brook. It was moved to Keene in the fall of 1924 after the original Walton Bridge was washed away during a storm on Sept. 30, 1924.

"It was a very unique design called lenticular truss, or a pumpkin seed truss, because the metal on it looked like the lens of an eye or a pumpkin seed," said Keene resident Peter Slocum, who provided historical information about the bridge for the dedication ceremony. "At the time it was washed away, there were only 50 of them left in the country, I think. So it was pretty rare. A lot of bridge architect people loved that bridge and were sad to see it go."

Before Tropical Storm Irene, the Walton Bridge was listed on Adirondack Architectural Heritage's list of "endangered" properties. Now that it's gone, it's listed on AARCH's list of "lost" properties. In 1990, the bridge was closed to vehicular traffic but was still used as a pedestrian bridge. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

Most of the old Walton Bridge was fished out of the water, but pieces of it remain in the riverbed.

"You can't see them now, but the construction guys working on the bridge explained to me that, if you look hard by some of those rocks, you can see pieces of steel," Slocum said. "Bill Ferebee got some of it pulled out to use for a sign, as we put some kind of historical marker sign up next year, marking this bridge and the old one, maybe we'll be able to use some of the steel from the old bridge."



After the town supervisor and special guests gave brief speeches Nov. 21, it was time to cross the bridge. A raffle was held to choose the first pedestrian, bicyclist and dog walker to cross. Jeff Nye was the first pedestrian and walked with daughters Ali and Liv, Peter Suttmeier was the first bicyclist, and David Nye was chosen to walk the first dog. David had three dogs in hand - Tundra, Carter and Buster - but Buster ran back to the Gristmill Road just as he stepped onto the bridge, leaving Tundra and Carter the first dogs to cross.

"It's great to see this bridge reopened here in Keene," said Keene resident and Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway, who attended the ceremony with his wife Mary. "It really helps us have a healthy community in Keene and Keene Valley. Healthy communities are part of a healthy nationally significant Adirondack Park."



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