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Bridging the Gaps

Posted Wednesday, June 28, 2023

When we think of a bridge, many images come to mind. Most practically, bridges enable us to get from one side to another, crossing a stream, a river, or a gorge. They connect people. They facilitate access. They open new opportunities.  

As a volunteer for Berkshire Natural Resources Council and a Pittsfield resident, the chance to work on a new bridge for the City of Pittsfield’s Wild Acres Park was rewarding for many reasons. Practically speaking, there was a real need, identified by BNRC, via past partnering with the City on self-guided and guided events at Wild Acres. The former 36’ span at the end of the pond had deteriorated to such an extent as to make it unsafe and most definitely unusable.  

Mariah Fogg, BNRC’s Community Conservation Manager, approached Jim McGrath, Pittsfield’s Parks and Open Space Manager, and determined that, while the City had funding for materials, it needed a partner to design, build, and install the bridge, as well as to dismantle the old structure. BNRC was only too glad to help, as partnerships with Pittsfield and the many towns, organizations, and state agencies with which BNRC works to protect our open lands are meaningful and important.  

The project began with an assessment in September 2022. Josh Hopmans, BNRC’s Property Manager, supported the bridge’s design and construction and on-site planning with the City. Deconstruction began in November, and it was determined that the existing steel beams were sound and could be used to support the new bridge.

Construction began in BNRC’s workshop in March 2023, where locally sourced black locust—a dense wood known for its ability to withstand the element—as fashioned into seven 200-lb. structural supports for the bridge platform and railings. A team of five volunteers (David Dutra, Tim O’Brien, Wendy Stebbins, Bob Johnson, and myself), led by Josh, learned just how dense black locust is, as they used drills, leverage, and 6” screws to assemble the supports. “Measure twice and drill once” were the watchwords of that session! 

Mindful of the desire of the City to replace the bridge in time for the annual Fishing Derby in mid-May, volunteers had two more workdays, these at Wild Acres. The first, on April 10, was overseen by Tyler Fogg, BNRC’s Trails Manager, who is also certified in using a Griphoist and rigging equipment. Cables were affixed around large trees on both sides of the pond’s spillover to enable the safe placement of the bridge supports onto the steel beams. Using straps and hooks, each support was oh-so-carefully lifted from the truck bed and guided to its resting place before being secured onto the beams.

The second workday, on May 1, involved installing precut locust planking for the bridge’s walkway as well as the bridge’s railings and top pieces. Josh made it so easy for volunteers by being extremely organized with the plan, the materials, and the leadership to enable the final assembly. He also exhibited a great amount of trust in the ability of volunteers to help with this project! The BNRC team on site included Volunteer and Outreach Assistant Charlotte Hood, who was instrumental in facilitating communications with the volunteers, as well as inspiring confidence along the way. 

As a volunteer, it was easy to see the ways this project lived up to BNRC’s core values. It strengthened connections between people—the volunteers, the staff, and the City of Pittsfield and visitors to Wild Acres. It facilitated access to open spaces—a very strong commitment of BNRC to the communities it serves. And it opened new opportunities—for volunteers to give back, and for those who might be new to the outdoors to experience the wonder of nature.