Shelburne Falls wary of biz impact during upcoming Bridge of Flowers closure

The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls will be closing in October for extensive repairs.

The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls will be closing in October for extensive repairs. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls will be closing in October for extensive repairs.

The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls will be closing in October for extensive repairs. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls will be closing in October for extensive repairs.

The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls will be closing in October for extensive repairs. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By DIANE BRONCACCIO

For the Recorder

Published: 09-12-2023 4:11 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — How will village businesses fare during a flowerless construction season on the Bridge of Flowers in 2024?

That was the big question Monday night, after Tighe & Bond engineers outlined plans for a $2.28 million, state Community One Stop for Growth grant-funded infrastructure repair project planned for the 115-year-old bridge. Work will begin next spring.

Beneath the footpath and the lush flowers is the village’s only public water main, which serves both Buckland and Shelburne. Because of that water main, the Shelburne Falls Fire District bought the unused trolley bridge in 1928 — a year before the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club converted its weedy surface into a public garden. The Fire District also serves as the village’s water district.

After it closes for the season in late October, the Bridge of Flowers will be stripped of vegetation while work is completed to stabilize the northeast wall that was damaged during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011; repair cracks and deterioration of concrete; make water main improvements; add waterproofing, improve irrigation and improve drainage, since interior water damage was detected; and upgrade fencing. On the bridge surface, the renovation will include replacing rails, making the bridge more handicap-accessible, and improving the footpath and lamppost lighting.

“The old-fashioned look will be maintained,” stressed Annette Szpila, chair of the Bridge of Flowers Committee that oversees the bridge garden.

Szpila said most plants will be removed when the bridge closes in October; they will be temporarily housed in the gardens or farms of volunteers until construction is finished.

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At least 40 people attended Monday’s information session at Buckland Town Hall, including several garden volunteers and business owners concerned about losing business during another summer without the Bridge of Flowers.

Mohammad Yaseen, co-owner of Bridge Street Bazaar, pointed out that Bridge Street businesses had to cope with the bridge closure of 2020 due to COVID-19 health safety precautions, as well as disruptions caused by the Bridge Street construction project, Iron Bridge sidewalk repairs and roadwork near Bridge and Main streets.

“Over the last four years, we have suffered,” he said.

Yaseen is also worried that the bridge project could take longer than anticipated. Currently, the Bridge of Flowers is expected to reopen — with its new garden — in April 2025.

Proponents of the infrastructure project said delaying the repairs to a later date would only raise the costs.

Shelburne Falls Fire District Commissioner Ron Dobosz said the project “is essential to the sustainability of our village’s public water infrastructure.”

Ellen Eller, owner of the former Sawyer News, said the village can’t afford not to fix the iconic tourist attraction.

“The Bridge of Flowers is the biggest draw, ” she said. “That investment is like maintaining your home.”

To offset the closure of the flower bridge, the village and town officials are mulling several ways to keep visitors coming next summer. Some of the ideas being explored include: home garden tours, perhaps in conjunction with local restaurants; and more flower plantings near the visitor center, along Bridge Street, and in the new pocket park at the intersection of Bridge and Deerfield streets.

Ann McCormick, who hosts concerts in her Water Street barn, said she has been talking to musicians and storytellers about having more events there.

“Shelburne Falls is definitely known as an arts community,” commented Whit Sanford. “People come here because it’s beautiful, because a river runs through it. Let’s capitalize on it.”

The first event, set for Oct. 14-15, will be a Bridge of Flowers art show and sale at the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center. At least 60 local artists will be contributing two-dimensional artwork of the bridge for this sale.

Updates will be posted at shelburnefallsfiredistrict.org or bridgeofflowersmass.org.