BLUE HILL, Maine — Nick Schade is from Connecticut, not Blue Hill, but he has some advice for the advisory committee helping to design a replacement for the Blue Hill Falls Bridge: strengthen the currents.
The 55-year-old sea kayak manufacturer and his friend, 58-year-old Gerry Polinsky, spent a good chunk of Tuesday in sea kayaks at the bridge enjoying the water flowing over Blue Hill Falls between Salt Pond and Blue Hill Harbor.
Sometimes the currents are so strong, Schade said, that “it’s like riding a surfboard while sitting on a standing wave.”
The flowing water provides a world-class adventure for sea kayakers, said Polinsky, also from Connecticut.
“You can just hang out there on that wave,” said Schade, who has been coming to the falls for 30 years. “If you’re really good, and neither of us are, you can stay for minutes there. It is right downstream from the bridge. It only happens on the incoming tide, and it lasts for about three hours every time.”
The advisory committee seeks opinions like Schade’s as it looks ahead to the 2022 replacement of the Falls Bridge.
Located on Route 175, the bridge will be replaced by the Maine Department of Transportation because it is simply getting too old. Its proposed replacement, an enhanced girder bridge, will be safer and is expected to last 100 years, twice as long as a repaired Falls Bridge, according to local and state officials.
Built in 1926, the bridge is not as well known as the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, but it is one of two remaining rainbow-arch bridges in Maine, according to a website dedicated to the topic, historicbridges.org, which calls the structure “an outstanding example of its type.”
The advisory committee, which held its first meeting Monday night, is beginning to explore what can and should be done to make the replacement bridge safer and more user-friendly. No one knows exactly what enhancements are feasible, but committee members welcome public input, Blue Hill First Selectmen Vaughn Leach said.
Leach said he wants the bridge to be wide enough so town plows can easily keep it cleared and pedestrians can use it safely. The new bridge will also be at least 2 feet taller than the old one, he said, to help reduce the sharp, rollercoaster-ish decline leading to the current bridge.
As for creating the ideal current for kayakers, the bridge replacement crew might be able to strengthen it by installing new pillars slightly wider than those supporting the old bridge, thus funneling more water into a smaller space. Increasing the height of the ledge that the bridge is built on might have the same effect, Schade said.
The crew could also ruin the currents by misplacing a pillar, he said.
As a recreational area, the new bridge might prove a real draw for outdoorsmen, Polinsky said. The old bridge is already pretty well known, he said.
“You could say to any serious sea kayaker on the eastern seaboard, Blue Hill Falls, and they will know what you are talking about,” Polinsky said.
Residents can leave ideas at Town Hall or submit them at a Department of Transportation webpage dedicated to the project.