In Bridgton, in the blazing heat last week, a determined crew of volunteers set the first timbers in place for the floor of the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge. Andy Buck, a Naples timber framer and friend of the late Bob Dunning, spent the previous week at his shop mortising 16 of the 8-by-12 hemlock floor timbers.

Buck is a well known timber framer who’s staying busy despite the economic downturn. Since 1987, Buck has crafted homes and barns, and designed and built what would ultimately become the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield.

Shortly after Dunning, a local restoration carpenter, suffered a fatal heart attack in late 2007, Buck built a small model of the bridge. As a member of a core group who discussed an idea of a Dunning memorial, Buck said he tried to integrate “a welcoming and rounded theme” that group members envisioned. The arched mockup left an impression on those closest to Dunning, and the group was eager for Buck to proceed. Buck said he’s glad finally to be working on the actual bridge.

Located behind the Magic Lantern Theater, the bridge will connect downtown Bridgton with Pondicherry Park, 66 acres of undeveloped woods and streams that environmental groups, land trusts, town officials and property owners have been piecing together for years.

Dunning’s death coincided with the park project in a manner that made naming an already needed bridge after him a fitting gesture. It’s the hope of many that Dunning’s love of nature and woodworking will shine through in the finished product. Many carvings are planned on the timbers, and the bridge will serve as a gateway to a preserve for all.

Buck said Dunning was an inspiration to those who knew him. As craftsmen, they shared similar interests. “I always enjoyed talking with him,” Buck recalls. “His attitude toward life, work and preserving historic buildings in the community — his whole attitude about conservation and nature was very inspiring.

“He didn’t just talk about conservation, he lived it,” added Buck. “He was just a remarkable person. Whether you knew Bob or not, the bridge will be an asset all can enjoy.”

Last summer, Peter Lowell, president of Lakes Environmental Association, said he hoped the bridge would be a sort of “community barn-raising.” Lowell was a friend and colleague of Dunning. The pair helped defeat a proposed nuclear waste repository in western Maine back in the 1980s. They also worked together on town planning issues in Bridgton.

Lowell’s wish of having the bridge project bring people together appears to be a reality. It really is kind of like an old-time barn raising. Volunteers, even Buck, are largely donating their time to building the project. Former Dunning friends and community members Jack and Deb Heffernan brought lunch to the sweaty crew last week. Everyone got out of the hot sun under the nearby kiosk (also built by Buck) to enjoy a break and camaraderie.

“It just warms the heart all of us that we can get together and contribute our time and skill and love to a friend long gone,” Jack Heffernan said. “That’s the way stuff used to be done years ago, and there’s still a commitment to that ethic here in Bridgton.”

The graceful, arching deck of the bridge floor is now in place, but money is still needed for the next stages. A November completion date has been set, a goal everyone hopes to achieve. Donations are welcome and can be given through local organizations such as Loon Echo Land Trust and Lakes Environmental Association. For more on the bridge and to view a model of the finished structure, as well as info on Bob Dunning and Pondicherry Park, visit www.pondicherrypark.org

 

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: [email protected]