Edgemont Memorial Park’s little bridge that used to be is a step closer to rising once more, in a new weathered steel incarnation that will restore a jewel to the landscape and a key passageway for visitors. That’s the word from Second Ward Councilor Robin Schlager, who has made resurrecting the bridge a small crusade ever since it was buffeted and all but destroyed by Hurricane Ida more than 16 months ago.

The big riddle in a bureaucratic snaggle that has dragged on is when – a time-sensitive question with springtime not too far in the distance. The new bridge will occupy the same spot as the old one, adjacent to the Edgemont Park House, which serves as a senior center. As the weather calms, more people will be coming to the park house and relying on the tiny causeway to negotiate the park's curved footpaths.

The bridge could see a new day in the spring, Schlager said.

“Based on the information currently we anticipate the bridge manufacturing process to be completed in April,” said Schlager, reading from an email she said she received last week from the engineer on the project. “And the bridge will be delivered and installed shortly thereafter, weather permitting.” 

Before the new year Schlager was presented with photographs of two similar bridges – one with a black painted framework and handrails, the other constructed with weathered steel. The council member shared both photographs with Montclair Local.

It didn’t take her long to choose, she said.

“I believe that the weathered steel bridge has a lot more character,” she said. “And as far as I know from our engineers, the weathered steel will hold up longer, whereas the painted steel has a certain lifespan and perhaps will peel at some point.”

Weathered steel, also regarded as unfinished steel, will quickly develop a surface rust, creating a rugged and natural feel without compromising its durability. That should blend in with the surroundings. The new bridge, which will be constructed offsite, will span the same segment of a brook in the northeast part of the park not far from the expansive pond. The absence of a bridge created an obstacle for visitors, forcing them to take a circuitous path to the other side of the park.

Ann Lippel, president of Montclair Gateway to Aging in Place, appraised the photographs and said that as far as she could tell she was pleased with the structural design.

“Functionality is extremely important to our older residents and we are glad to see that both of the designs provide for railings,” she said in a text. “It also appears that the width of both designs look like they will accommodate folks who need assistive devices for walking. (It would be great if the designers could confirm the latter.)"

Lippel added: “Since this bridge is located directly behind the Edgemont Park House., we hope that the needs of our older residents were a key design consideration. The sooner this bridge can be installed, the better for our older citizens, especially as we can look forward to outdoor activities in Edgemont Park.”

Demolition of the remnants of the Edgemont Memorial Park bridge began on Dec. 19, 2022. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Demolition of the remnants of the Edgemont Memorial Park bridge began on Dec. 19, 2022. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

The first prognosis foresaw a quick fix soon after remnants of the storm swept through Montclair on Sept. 1, 2021. Then came difficulty finding a contractor willing to take on the liability of constructing a bridge, even a small-scale footpath. A seesaw exchange with state authorities and even at the federal level ensued. Given that the town counted the bridge as a casualty of Ida, FEMA joined the fray and created more red tape.

All along, Schlager has been flabbergasted by the dawdling progress, taking the holdups personally, she said.

“Of all the years that I've been on the council, a little more than 10 years, this has been, though no one’s fault, this has been one of the most frustrating projects I’ve ever worked on,” Schlager said.

She made the comments moments after the Montclair Planning Board’s meeting on Monday night, Jan. 9, a session dedicated to the intricacies of the Lackawanna Redevelopment plan.

“Lackawanna, OK, that takes time,” she said, shaking her head. “But a little bridge, all the delays, it’s kind of ridiculous.”