GROTON -- Anticipating fast work on the installation of a new Fitch's Bridge, members of the Greenway Committee began work planning for a double ribbon-cutting ceremony hopefully to take place early in September.
According to committee Chairman David Pitkin, the old bridge was successfully removed over a few hours on April 26 and its old metal structure was quickly broken up.
The large cranes that had been brought in to do the work were subsequently removed, to return when the new span is ready to be installed.
In the meantime, the existing abutments will be strengthened and restored, with the new bridge expected to be delivered over the next several weeks.
The idea of replacing Fitch's Bridge has been a dream of local planners for many years, especially those interested in creating an interconnected trail system through town.
Built and installed in the late 19th century by the Berlin Iron Bridge Co. of Connecticut, Fitch's Bridge has been closed to auto traffic since the 1960s and in recent times has been used mostly by teenagers looking for a good spot from which to jump into the Nashua River.
An effort last year to find money for replacement of the bridge with the Community Preservation Committee went nowhere when it became apparent that it would be more expensive for the town to take that route than in raising the funding needed independently.
An article at a subsequent fall Town Meeting seeking to raise funds to pay for a plan to remove the existing bridge and a design for a new one finally passed muster with residents and the firm of Fay, Spofford & Thorndike were hired to do the work.
That was followed up at a special Town Meeting held last February, where voters approved the appropriation of $385,409 to pay for the removal and replacement of the bridge.
Looking ahead to completion of the project some time this summer, members of the Greenway Committee, at their meeting of April 29, began to plan for an opening ceremony that is expected to include a simultaneous ribbon-cutting at either end of the new bridge, speakers, music, an informational historic display, and special guests in the form of descendents of Zachariah Fitch after whom the bridge was named.
Zachariah ran a ferry across the river in the years prior to the bridge being installed.
Also at their meeting of April 29, committee members reorganized themselves and voted to make Pitkin their new chairman.
The move was a somewhat historic one in that local environmentalist Marion Stoddart had been chairman and has held that position on the committee for most of its history since she first helped to establish the group in 1972.
Stoddart had been instrumental in getting the once polluted Nashua River cleaned up and has had a documentary film made detailing her efforts.
"I think that the Greenway Committee has been a very important group," said Stoddart, reflecting briefly over the group's role over the past decades. "Our goal has been to protect the land along the river and today over 60 percent of it is."
But Stoddart felt it was the committee's ability to work with others, not only in Groton, but other towns along the course of the river, that has been its true hallmark.
"The Greenway Committee is a very collaborative group that is very supportive of other boards and committees in town like the Conservation Commission and Trails Committee," Stoddart said.