HOULTON – A few words and the snip of a ribbon were all that it took to empower residents to take their first steps across the town’s new pedestrian footbridge late Thursday evening.
Initially labeled the “Riverfront Bridge” by town officials and the committee that helped raise more than $1 million to fund its construction, the trestle was christened the “Gateway Crossing” during the hour-long dedication ceremony.
The name was picked by local students Kyle Bouchard and Kyle Kramer as part of a contest.
The 187-foot structure, which stretches from the North Street Bridge across the Meduxnekeag River, has been five years in the making.
Envisioned by the Riverfront Committee, the new bridge is designed to give walkers easy access to historic downtown Market Square and the trails alongside the river.
More than 100 people shaded their eyes from the sun and cheered wildly as several residents – posing as farmers, lumbermen and other influential people from Houlton’s past – stood at the mouth of the bridge in front of a glittering red ribbon.
Lawyer and history buff Richard Rhoda posed as Joseph Houlton, the town’s founder, during the ceremony.
The anticipation of the crowd was obvious as the ribbon cutting grew closer. A crowd of children snaked down the trail that leads to the bridge, jockeying for position to be one of the first to cross it.
Flanked by other town councilors, council Chairman Gerald Adams told the crowd that he had slowly grown to support both the bridge and the vision of those who created it.
Some councilors and residents have been leery of the project, speculating that the bridge would be vandalized and reiterating that they were told that no taxpayer dollars would be needed to finance the initiative.
Councilors eventually donated $25,000 in town funds to light the bridge in addition to in-kind employee labor toward the project.
The bulk of the undertaking has been financed by grants and private donations.
“Two years ago, as a Town Council member, I was not in support of this bridge,” Adams said, adding that he eventually realized that he was lacking the vision that powered the fund-raising contingent. “The Riverfront Committee had that vision, and I urge people to work together to support this beautiful bridge.”
Bob Anderson, chairman of the Riverfront Committee, told the crowd that it was “gratifying” to see so many people turn out for the dedication ceremony.
He said that the group would push forward with its goal of creating a park beneath the bridge on land that is adjacent to the river.
The park is slated to be furnished with picnic tables, restrooms and other amenities. Officials also are aiming to create a loop trail around the area that will benefit fitness enthusiasts.
As darkness fell, hundreds of residents piled onto the bridge or around its banks for the official lighting ceremony, clapping and cheering as the lampposts flickered to life.
“Beautiful,” one woman said aloud, peering down at the cylinders of light that the lamps cast on the dark water below. “Just beautiful.”