GROTON -- Flush with their recent victory in erecting a new span over the Nashua River that replaced the aging Fitch's Bridge, the Greenway Committee looked back at a job well done.
"I think it's wonderful," said member Marion Stoddart on Oct. 17. "The new bridge is very attractive and we're all thrilled that its installation came in ahead of schedule and under budget."
Replacing the old bridge was 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 forms an important link between Groton and West Groton.
But due to safety concerns, the old bridge had been closed to auto traffic since the 1960s and in recent times used mostly by teenagers looking for a good spot to jump into the Nashua River.
Culminating a 25-year effort to have the crumbling bridge replaced, the committee sponsored an article on the warrant for Town Meeting to raise the money needed to remove and replace the old span.
Voters decided in their favor and, in a process praised by town officials as one of the most efficient of major municipal projects, the new bridge was installed over the summer. A dedication ceremony was held Sept. 15.
"It was a smooth project that met all of our criteria," said Stoddart. "It forms a wonderful new trail connection ... and people are using it.
Other members confirmed the new bridge has attracted much more foot traffic along the trail than before -- traffic that has discouraged use of the area as a hangout for local youth who often littered the banks of the river.
"The new bridge has reconnected Groton with West Groton and provides the only safe passage in Groton over the Nashua River," said Stoddart. "Before, the only ways across were at Route 119 or Route 225 and they're really dangerous."
Committee Chairman David Pitkin praised the new connectedness the span gives residents.
"I run across it very often," said Pitkin. "For me, it opens up the whole Throne Hill development with only a 10-minute run to the businesses at Mill Run Plaza."
With the bridge project behind them, members are mapping out plans for the immediate future with continued efforts at protecting the Greenway along the Nashua and Squannacook Rivers.
According to Stoddart, 50 percent of the land on either side of the two streams have so far been protected. More work needs to be done to increase that percentage, either through purchase of land, seeking donations of land, or cooperation with the Conservation Commission to protect the buffer zone between the water and human activity.
The goal, said Stoddart, is to protect land up to 300 feet from the river banks.
Other goals determined by the committee include continued efforts at public education on the importance of protecting the Greenway and raising people's consciousness by use of such events as Riverfest.
A semi-annual event that combines environmental awareness, river excursions, historical context and entertainment, the success of the last Riverfest has encouraged committee members to make it an annual event.
Finally, the committee would like to find ways to increase use by the public of the Greenway, whether hunting, fishing, hiking, swimming or boating. Protection of the Greenway is not just about defending the environment, but also getting people to interact with it and appreciate efforts to preserve it.
"We're very interested in collaborating with other groups," said Stoddart of working with such groups as the Trails Committee to extend the town's system of hiking trails through the Greenway.
To accomplish its goals, the Greenway Committee needs a full complement of members. With the resignation of Fran Stanley, the five-member group finds itself short one person.
If anyone is interested in filling the seat, they are encouraged to contact the town clerk's office for information.
The committee's next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 21.