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 built on the site of the old trestle train near Prescott Field.
The project has been attempted several times in the past, the first in 2003 and the last in 2015. Brent West, Executive Director of the High Peaks Alliance, decided to investigate why the project was never completed. despite the fact that he seemed to be a priority for many within the community. He presented it to the HPA board, who agreed that the project would benefit the community and his own values.
West shared that the HPA considers Farmington the “gateway to the high peaks.” They believe this bridge will connect downtown Farmington to the rest of the High Peaks region and encourage the community of Farmington to enjoy all there is to offer.
West has put together a stakeholder group, made up of people who have worked on the project in the past and representatives of organizations who might be helpful.
Despite agreement on the importance of the bridge, the big question of how to pay for the roughly $2 million project remains. The estimated budget was too big for the city to cover, so the group looked for grants that could help. They applied for funding from the Economic Development Administration, which was denied. Susan and Fritz Onion offered to start the project by pledging $300,000. After that the ball started rolling and the promises started coming in from all directions.
Due to the attention given to the Sandy River Bridge project, Congressman Jared Golden took notice. According to West, Congressman Golden attended the University of Maine at Farmington for a while, so the area holds some significance to him. His staff helped the HPA apply to Senator Susan Collins and Senator Angus King for congressional-directed funding, which was recently secured.
HPA will present to Franklin County Commissioners Aug. 16 in hopes of receiving a smaller grant that will help with final engineering and permitting in the interim before federal money is officially approved.
West, who grew up in New Portland, remembers watching the industry leave the area. Its primary school is now closed, as well as the post office and the nearby mill. In his role at the HPA, he strives to involve people in preserving loved places before they disappear.
“There is no one who 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 can take for granted.
More information about donating to the HPA to support the bridge and become a member of the HPA can be found here.