The few who stayed away from the mass bridgewalk Saturday across the new Penobscot Narrows Bridge for fear of parking problems or impossible crowds missed a historic civic celebration they would have relished the rest of their lives. Those who made it in the brilliant sunshine of a brisk fall day guessed right.
Fifteen thousand made the walk across the splendid 2,120-foot span, finding plenty of parking, shuttle buses, a small army of volunteers to direct traffic and handle the crowd, food and drink stands, portable restrooms, occasional chairs for the weary and a smooth walkway all the way across. The whole thing was coordinated by the Bucksport Bay Chamber of Commerce. The Maine Office of Tourism calculated the crowd figure from observations by two helicopters, square footage of the bridge and parking and busload data.
Chamber executive director Cindi Kimball said that the only changes that had to be made as the huge crowd gathered was provision of more handicapped parking and additional shuttle buses. Her husband, Alvion Kimball, chief of the Bridgewalk, added two school buses to the four originally scheduled.
Canes, crutches, walkers and wheelchairs helped even the elderly and the handicapped join the procession. Toddlers often got a ride on dad or mom’s shoulders. The bridge crew had worked in the rain last week to build a pedestrian ramp to cross a big dropoff at the west end of the bridge and permit completing the walk to the far shore. No serious accidents were reported, matching the accident-free record of the construction crew with its rigorous safety regulations and drills.
Ms Kimball is distributing congratulatory certificates to the 600 bridge builders and now is turning her attention to the next historic civic event, the opening of observation tower scheduled for June 23, 2007. That will require special crowd-handling techniques, since the elevator will hold only 8 people and the observatory can accommodate only 48 at a time and 1,500 per day. That will probably mean advance signups and assignment of times, but this still in the planning stage.
Whatever the difficulties, you can bet that it will move along like clockwork if the success of Saturday’s bridgewalk is any indication.