river rant

This what the text from my address to the Methuen City Council last night, I sent it in as a letter to the editor…lets see what happens.

In 1835, Darwin was on the Beagle discovering evolution, Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States and what we now call the SANDS BRIDGE on Hampshire Rd was the major bridge across the Spicket River for the Londonderry turnpike. This little picturesque bridge, the subject of many postcards, was in continuous usage until 1963 when Rt 93 made it irrelevant. Since that time as a people we keep threatening to preserve it for posterity and make a park around its location.

It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Mass Cultural Inventory Database, the Massachusetts Register of Historic Places and so forth. This structure is older than everyone we know and every building we live in. Locals have painted portraits of it and donated to its repair. In 2009 a grant funded landscape designs, as there are many press releases to that effect.

Over the last 18 months the city has stopped caring for it, and the weeds, vines and invasive species have attacked it with a vengeance. The bridge is nearly unrecognizable, and can barely be seen. The Sands Bridge is of a dry stone double arch construction…there is no mortar to protect it from weeds and vines that are invading its body and threatening its integrity. If left in this condition it will undoubtedly collapse.

Well over a month ago, I tried to sound the alarm, not many people understood the urgency of the problem. Giving people the benefit of the doubt, I can only chalk it up to a general ignorance about physics, time and gravity. After some nagging the DPW finally did show up but all the did was mow the shoulder of the road, they didn’t even pick up the surrounding trash nor did they clear any area leading up to or even clearing a view of the bridge.

If the city no longer wishes to maintain this piece of cultural heritage, I say we should collapse it ourselves. Break it apart and reuse the stones in another structure elsewhere, THAT was how it was originally constructed in the first place. An honorable and dignified death for this bridge is what it deserves, this destruction through neglect is a passive aggressive way to not deal with the issue and is beneath the dignity of the people who have gone before us.

If we truly do want to preserve it until such time that we can get funding for a park, at the bare minimum we need to keep the weeds and trees from invading and collapsing the bridge. The argument that we can’t afford it does not hold water. Structures like these can and should be maintained by the city, but cared for by citizens. There is no reason that our various historical organizations and committees can’t recruit passionate people. It is just a sign of laziness that we haven’t even bothered trying.

I have also heard the argument voiced AGAINST constructing any more parks and green spaces, and that idea can’t be shouted down hard enough. Public spaces like parks are an economic indicator of prosperity and to go out of your way to avoiding creating new the ones is cultural suicide.

While we are on the topic of The Spicket River… on Saturday September 21st, the Methuen Trails Committee will be joining Groundwork Lawrence for their Eleventh annual Spicket River Cleanup day. It is their eleventh but our Second, the members of the Methuen Trails Committee regularly clean the Spicket River from the Falls area to the NH Border. Two years ago using a canoe and a row boat we cleaned 900 lbs of debris from an encampment from one of the islands in Nevins Bird Sanctuary, at last years joint cleanup a crew of 10 people worked behind the Methuen Music Hall and removed 700 pounds including tires, barrels and one television set. This year we are hoping to have a larger turn out and work on other spots along the river in the downtown area.

I did not hear about about Ms. Nolan’s petition for a river clean up until recently, but i can assure you that everyone is welcome to join us on our annual river clean up day or any other day.

The Methuen Trails Committee has also removed as of today over 125 bandit signs as well are removed abandoned newsvending boxes, unslightly weeds on common lands as well as graffitti removal along the rail trail.

Which brings me to my next and last point:

I believe eliminating community cleanup in the city is not only penny wise and pound foolish but destructive and plain wrong headed. Insisting that the entire concept needs to be scrapped because a particular neighborhood abused the project defeats the entire concept of community participation. Last spring when the event was cancelled I was assure by more than one person it was only temporary and that the event would be back in the fall with better oversight. Now i am told that it isn’t going to happen.

As I have said on many occassion, we need citizens to be more responsible for where they live. We need to inspire and encourage participation in these events not discourage them. We need people to notice when a bridge is overgrown, to stop and pick up a piece of trash when they see it, they need to report or remove graffiti.

Methuen can’t have it both ways, saying we can’t afford to pay to have it done and then undermine occassions to have people do it for themselves. Residents need to learn to work together to improve their evironment and stop waiting for some magic grant money to fund the things we don’t have. We need to have more of these events not fewer. If you can’t figure out how to run them economically – there are groups out there like Groundwork that can show us exactly how it is done.

Joyce Godsey
Methuen Trails Committee

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