FARMINGTON – More than $2 million was recently secured for the Sandy River bridge project; the bridge will connect the 14-mile Whistle Stop Trail to central Farmington. The 336 foot bridge will be constructed at the site of the old train trestle by Prescott Field.
The project has been attempted several times in the past, the first being in 2003 and the latest in 2015. Brent West, Executive Director of the High Peaks Alliance, decided to investigate why the project was never completed despite the fact that it seemed to be a priority for many within the community. He brought it to the HPA board, who agreed that the project would be beneficial to the community and to their own values.
West shared that the HPA views Farmington as the “Gateway to the High Peaks.” They believe that this bridge will connect downtown Farmington to the rest of the High Peaks region and encourage the Farmington community to take advantage of all there is to offer.
West formed a group of stakeholders, composed of people who had worked on the project in the past and representatives from organizations that could be useful.
Despite the agreement on the importance of the bridge, the bigger question of how to pay for the roughly $2.7 million project remained. The estimated budget was too large for the town to cover, so the group searched for grants that could help. They requested funding from the Economic Development Administration, which was declined. Susan and Fritz Onion offered to get the project started by pledging $300,000. After that, the ball started rolling and pledges began to come in from all different directions.
Due to the attention the Sandy River bridge project gained, Congressman Jared Golden took notice. According to West, Congressman Golden attended the University of Maine at Farmington for a time, so the area holds a certain importance to him. His staff helped the HPA apply to Senator Susan Collins and Senator Angus King for congressionally directed funding, which was recently secured, pending approval by the house and senate.
HPA will be presenting to the Franklin County Commissioners on August 16 with hopes of receiving a smaller grant that will help with final engineering and permitting in the meantime before the federal money is officially approved.
West, who grew up in New Portland, remembers watching industry leave the area. His elementary school is now closed, along with the post office and the mill nearby. In his role at the HPA, he strives to get people involved with preserving the loved places before they disappear.
“There isn’t anyone that is going to come and rebuild our communities for us,” West said.
He encourages people to take responsibility for the future of the High Peak region and the beautiful nature that the community may take for granted.
More information about donating to the HPA to support the bridge and becoming a member of the HPA are available here.