BROOKFIELD, Vt. — A tiny Vermont town's famous wooden floating bridge — believed to be the only one of its kind in the country — has been rebuilt and is reopening this weekend with fanfare including a parade with a bagpiper, high school marching band, oxen team, horses, and antique cars crossing the new span Saturday. Just not all at once.
The Brookfield bridge on Route 65 — a state highway that is unpaved through the village — has been closed for seven years after its floatation system started to fail, causing it to be partially submerged.
Residents are excited about having the one-lane bridge across Sunset Lake opened again to vehicles and pedestrians as summer approaches in the community of 1,200, where historic homes dot the landscape along the picturesque water. The bridge has now been replaced seven times and the parade will be staggered to avoid, for the time being at least, an eighth.
"We're just thrilled to see it open," said Jane Doerfer, owner of the Green Trails Inn, across the street from the bridge, which often gets business from tourists who come to see the bridge and then decide to stay overnight.
She lost a lot business when the bridge closed but said she would rather focus on the good news that the new bridge is complete. "Let's just concentrate on we now have a bridge where we can hear the children laughing as they jump off the bridge and things like that."
The first floating bridge was built in 1820, by townspeople who strapped together logs on the top of the frozen lake, after a man drowned walking across the ice, said Perry Kacik, chairman of the Brookfield Floating Bridge Celebration Committee. When the ice melted, a crude floating bridge was left behind.
As the bridge was rebuilt over the last nearly two centuries, technology improved. In the last bridge water started to leak into the barrels beneath the decking and waterlog the foam inside them causing the bridge to sink slightly to the point where there was often a puddle of water in the middle of it, Kacik said. If vehicles were traveling too fast they risked splashing pedestrians walking across the 318-foot-long bridge on its elevated sidewalks.
The new bridge is made of pontoons and is completely above water. The $2.4 million project was covered by 80 percent federal funds and 20 percent state funding.
There are two other floating bridges in Washington state, thought they are much larger and not wooden, according to Jennifer Fitch, a structures project manager with the Vermont Transportation Agency. The new Brookfield bridge is designed to last 100 years and has widened sidewalks.
"We made sure that this new bridge provides access to everybody," Fitch said.
The celebration will also include food vendors, music, speeches by the governor and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch as well as a dance in the evening. On Sunday, The Flowting Bridge Band will perform and area farms will be open for tours.
The bridge is "very important" to the community, said Orange County sheriff Bill Bohnyak, a member of the celebration committee.
"Number one: It is a state highway so people use it on a regular basis. And many, many people in our community and the surrounding central Vermont come here to fish, swim and in the winter time they do the ice cutting," he said.
"It's really important here for the little town of Brookfield, one of the few communities that does not have a main street that's paved," he added. "It's still dirt and it's going to continue that way."