'It's sad to see it go': Landmark covered bridge coming down this week

·3 min read

A popular New Brunswick tourist attraction, a marvel of engineering and an important part of the province's heritage will be no more after this week – at least in its current location.

Mary Kennedy, who owns Octopus Ice Cream in St. Martins, said crews beginning to take down the historic Vaughan Creek Covered Bridge on Monday were attracting an audience.

"It's sad to see it go – that's for sure," said the business owner, who was part of the group that fought to halt its replacement through letter-writing campaigns and petitions.

In January, the Government of New Brunswick announced plans to replace the bridge with a two-lane structure designed as a new, wooden covered bridge. The Vaughan Creek covered bridge had been closed for several years after being deemed unsafe for heavy traffic.

"At the same time, there has to be an alternative that functions better," Kennedy said. "It is a bittersweet transition, saying goodbye to the old and welcoming the new."

Built in 1935, the landmark bridge holds a special place for the residents and businesses of St. Martins. Kennedy recalled swinging off the rafters in the summers when she was young.

As the second-most visited covered bridge in New Brunswick, according to the Covered Bridges Conservation Association of New Brunswick, the structure attracts a significant number of tourists.

About a four-minute walk to the Hardscrabble Covered Bridge, it's also known as the only spot in the world where two covered bridges and a lighthouse exist together.

But Kennedy said she isn't concerned the bridge's demise will lead to a drop in tourism numbers.

"I definitely think the new bridge will add to the tourism here because it will allow for the kind of traffic flow that's necessary," she said.

Ray Boucher, president of the Covered Bridges Conservation Association of New Brunswick, said while many people are upset, the group was able to reach a compromise with the province so that a new covered bridge would be built in its stead.

"The replacement is a true covered bridge, not a steel, concrete phony so that we are building heritage for later," Boucher said. "Although the bridge is coming down, it is not being destroyed completely. They are saving, if not all of it, a part of it to be re-used elsewhere."

In the 1950s, there were 340 covered bridges in New Brunswick, he said. Now there's only 58.

"They are an engineering marvel. When you consider, especially, that they were built without cranes and bulldozers," he said. "They were built using hand tools and chainsaws and horses."

Mark Taylor, a spokesperson with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, said the covered bridge's facade will be saved and given to the Village of St. Martins.

The construction of a new bridge, which is designed to accommodate modern traffic, such as commercial trucks, tour buses, vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists, is set to begin in October, Taylor wrote in an email. It’s expected to open in the summer of 2022 – depending on the weather.

"The department investigated various options, from a concrete bridge with a wooden cover housing to a bridge entirely constructed out of wood," he wrote. "The chosen option is a modern wooden-covered bridge, built to the current roadway and bridge codes and standards."

He said the new structure also respects the history of the province's popular covered bridges, as well as the St. Martins community.

"Building such a large structure out of wood is new to New Brunswick, and complex in nature. However, the department is taking all the necessary steps to mitigate any challenges as well as addressing any concerns brought forward."

Robin Grant, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal

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