That was the big question Monday night, after Tighe & Bond engineers outlined plans for a $2.28 million Community for Growth Grant-funded infrastructure repair project planned for the 115-year-old bridge. Work will begin next spring.
Below the footpath and lush flowers is the village’s only public water supply, serving both Buckland and Shelbourne. Because of this water source, the Shelburne Falls Fire District purchased the unused trolley bridge in 1928 — a year before the Shelburne District Women’s Club converted its weedy surface into a public park. The fire district also serves as the village’s water district.
After closing for the season in late October, the Flower Bridge will be stripped of vegetation while work is completed to stabilize the northeast wall that was damaged during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011; Repairing cracks and deterioration of concrete. Make improvements to the water main; Adding waterproofing, improving irrigation and improving drainage, since internal water damage was discovered; And upgrade the fence. On the bridge deck, the renovation will include replacing the rails, making the bridge more accessible for the disabled, improving pedestrian walkways and lighting poles.
“The old look will be preserved,” stressed Annette Chapella, chair of the Flower Bridge Committee, which oversees the bridge park.
Most of the plants will be removed when the bridge closes in October, Chabela said. They will be temporarily housed in volunteer gardens or farms until construction is finished.
At least 40 people attended Monday’s information session at Buckland City Hall, including many park volunteers and business owners who worry about losing their businesses during another summer without the Flower Bridge.
Bridge Street Bazaar co-owner Mohamed Yassin noted that Bridge Street businesses had to deal with the 2020 bridge closure due to COVID-19 health safety precautions, as well as disruptions caused by Bridge Street’s construction project, the Iron Bridge Pier. Repairs and road works near the bridge and main streets.
“We have suffered over the past four years,” he said.
Yassin is also concerned that the bridge project may take longer than expected. Currently, the Flower Bridge with its new park is expected to reopen in April 2025.
Supporters of the infrastructure project said delaying repairs to a later date would only increase costs.
The project is “essential to the sustainability of our village’s public water infrastructure,” Shelburne Falls Fire Protection District Commissioner Ron Dubusch said.
Ellen Eller, former owner of the Sawyer News, said the village could not afford to not repair the popular tourist attraction.
“The Flower Bridge is the biggest attraction,” she said. “This investment is like maintaining your home.”
To make up for the Flower Bridge closure, village and town officials are considering several ways to keep visitors coming next summer. Some ideas being explored include: home garden tours, perhaps in conjunction with local restaurants; And more flower farms near the Visitor Center, along Bridge Street, and in the new pocket park at the intersection of Bridge and Deerfield Streets.
Anne McCormick, who hosts concerts at her barn on Water Street, said she has talked with musicians and storytellers about holding more events there.
“Shelburne Falls is certainly known as an arts community,” commented White Sanford. “People come here because it’s beautiful, and because the river runs through it. Let’s take advantage of that.”
The first event, scheduled for October 14-15, will be a Flower Bridge art show and auction at the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center. At least 60 local artists will contribute 2D artwork of the bridge to this auction.
Updates will be posted at shelburnefallsfiredistrict.org or bridgeofflowersmass.org.