Discovering the Bridge to Somewhere

Discovering the Bridge to Somewhere
By Audrey McCollum
The torrential rains of June brought hardship to farmers and others in the region. Yet for those who love wilderness, June marked the welcome completion of what should be known as The Bridge to Somewhere – at least until its formal dedication.
This bridge crosses Mink Brook, which has its source high on Moose Mountain and meanders or plunges down to merge with the Connecticut River. Until recently, it was difficult to penetrate the forest on the brook’s south side.
Coached by Etna resident Anne Morris, my husband and I located the new edifice by turning left off South Main Street onto Brook Road. A short drive brought us to a small, gated parking area. Walking onto a waterside trail where a youth was casting for trout on a recent Sunday, we turned right on a narrow track and there was the bridge.
So sturdily constructed that even an acrophobe would have no misgivings, the 52- foot-long structure led to the freshly blue-blazed Wheelock Trail that guides hikers through the forest.
The trail meandered. When close to Mink Brook, it revealed a turbulent watercourse that had over-run its banks and toppled saplings. As the stream swirled around large boulders, the foam was so dense and white that it resembled snow.
Shaded heavily by firs, white pines and maples, much of the track was damp. In places, it was stony and slippery and demanded cautious footsteps. Yet where the land rose higher, the trail was thickly carpeted in evergreen needles, soft and springy. But some huge rocks could only be passed Tarzan-style by swinging past tree trunks festooned with moss and lichens.
Most hikers hope to see wildlife, but only an orange salamander was visible. Then a pair of panting Portuguese Water Dogs pulled their leashed mistress into view. Friendly and vivacious, Maureen Bolton introduced herself, but she was urged on by her pups, so we continued our conversation on e-mail.
Now 47, she hiked the Wheelock trail at least four times a week and had seen much wildlife, she explained.
“Some I probably would have missed if it weren’t for my dogs who smell them before I can see them and then bark … plenty of wild turkeys, deer, chipmunks, bunnies, squirrels, ducks, geese and a huge grouse that charged me out of the grass (I screamed because I actually thought it was a bear),” she wrote.
“I have lived in large cities most of my life … I never knew that one could actually see all of these creatures outside of a zoo.” Too, in those cities she never ventured into the parks because of her terror that some human would attack her.
“I have never felt so safe in my life as I do when walking the trails here.”
This welcoming wilderness, now known as the Mink Brook Nature Preserve, was the outgrowth of ten years of collaboration between the Hanover Conservation Council, Upper Valley Land Trust, Dartmouth College and community members, according to Molly Donovan, Executive Director of the Hanover Conservation Council.
The preserve encompasses 113 acres owned by the Council. Approximately 90 acres are on the south side of the bridge; they border hundreds of acres of undeveloped and conserved land in Lebanon and give access to miles of trails.
The idea of creating a professionally engineered and structurally sound bridge that melded with the environment was introduced in ’99, and private donations were set aside. At the time, cost was predicted to exceed $10,000. But as an outcome of collaboration between Sarah Pena, Stewardship Coordinator and the Mink Brook Stewardship Committee, cost was held to $6,800.
The National Park Service Rivers and Trails Program supplied a grant for technical consultation and introduced the committee to Tahawus Trails for the final design and engineering.
“Arborists from Chippers volunteered their time and skills to climb trees at Mink Brook to find a white pine that could become our bridge,” Donovan wrote. “They identified two straight-growing white pines close to the bridge that were over 80 feet tall. The first one we cut down broke when it hit the ground. So we only had one other chance to get it right and luckily we did! The first tree was used as the sill logs which is where the bridge rests on either side of the brook.”
The felling took place in January when the ground was covered in snow, protecting vegetation when the tree was dragged to it winter storage area, explained Pena. Work was completed in the spring, with 20 volunteers intensely involved.
In addition to this gem, the Council offers free, public Outdoor Adventures during fall, winter and spring. Find enticing details on the website or check the Valley News Calendar.
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A lightly edited version of this article was published in the Valley News on 7/29/09