BY ALVIN REINER
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — With picnic benches, an interpretive trail, climbing trees and walls, and a pebble harp, Footbridge Park was designed for the entire Elizabethtown community.
Through the efforts of numerous volunteers, local government and energetic visionaries, such as Jessica Darney Buehler and Meg Parker, it was decided that work needed to be done to Elizabethtown’s landmark footbridge and that a park would be created near it.
“It was envisioned that children would have a community play area and people of all ages and abilities would have access to walk or roll through nature in an appealing setting close to town,” Buehler said.
“This project was designed to increase access to places for physical activity as a means of preventing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.”
FELL INTO DISREPAIR
The landmark bridge, in existence since the 1800s, has been a connective link between the upper and lower portions of the village and is part of popular routes for strollers and joggers. In the 1960s, a popular town-supported swimming hole with lifeguards was located near the bridge.
Over the years, the area by the footbridge fell into disuse and disrepair. Last year, the aging footbridge, constructed with wood planking that was often vandalized, was replaced with a composite walkway and sides. The steep approach from the top of the hill to the bridge was made safer by a lesser gradient new surface and a handrail.
The landscape adjacent to the bridge had been overgrown with weeds and was often littered with debris from late-night parties.
In addition, the park had suffered flood damage, and pallets of stacked sandbags and debris were left from previous stabilization intentions.
“In all regards, the area had become unattractive and underutilized,” Buehler said. “There was not an existing community or town playground.”
‘GEM IN HAMLET’
The new park features porcupine climbing trees, a climbing wall, stepping stones, a swing and traverse climber, as well as sand box and triple slide. There are also several interpretive signs created by Sheri Amsel along the quarter-mile loop trail.
Within the park are several musical stations, featuring bells, bongo drums, a whale drum and a pebble harp. The harp creates an infinite number of notes and cadences as pebbles are inserted at the top and randomly hit metal rods on the way down.
Though new, unfortunately, the park has already had problems with vandalism. Three bells situated along the trail were removed and found in the river by a fisherman. In another incident, someone built a campfire, oblivious to the dry leaves and nearby homes.
“The Elizabethtown Footbridge Park is a gem in the midst of our hamlet,” said Elizabethtown Supervisor Margaret Bartley. “It’s a place that provides rest and recreation for folks of all ages.
“I hope the problem with vandalism will decrease as more people use the park. Problems happen when parks are empty, not when they are busy.
“Like the footbridge that spans the river, Footbridge Park spans many generations. Schools groups, grandparents, fishermen and toddlers can always find something to do at the park,” she said.
Through the efforts of Buehler, Parker and others, proposals were submitted and awarded to rehabilitate the footbridge and create Footbridge Park. The concept of a natural playground and accessible trail were provided by Essex County Public Health staff and put into motion with the approval of both the Town Council and the Elizabethtown Planning Board.
Funding came from the New York State Department of Health’s Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work and Play grant, via Essex County Public Health, and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, via the Town of Elizabethtown. Total funds expended on the project amounted to $113,900.
In addition, countless hours of volunteer labor and individual donations were the backbone of the project. Town highway crews and golf-course workers, along with prisoners from Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, dug, sawed, put up slides and cleared the pathways. Other neighborhood volunteers planted flowers; installed the musical toys, park benches and picnic tables; and built the bridges that cross the wetland areas.
“It’s so nice to get away from everything,” said Kristi Pierson, who was enjoying a picnic lunch near the footbridge and river with her daughters, Elise and Allie.
“It’s great what they did with the path. The girls took me through it a few days ago.”
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