Bridge of many barks

By Lee Burnett

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A GRACEFUL FOOTBRIDGE NOT FAR FROM the main drag in Bridgton is a great learning test for anyone who thinks they know Maine wood.

Entering the timber frame structure, the eye is drawn to a “live edge” of bark on the overhead cross ties. There is smooth bark and deep-fissured bark, whitish bark and reddish bark, flaky bark and ridged bark, mottled bark and patterned bark. In all, 16 cross ties, each made from a different Maine wood.

“We hope it opens people’s eyes,” said Andy Buck, the timber framer who designed and oversaw construction of the bridge. Buck also harvested many of the trees from his own property. “We did it as a learning opportunity… an opportunity to learn from the environment around you.”

The bridge—which spans Willett Brook at the entrance to Pondicherry Park—is a memorial to the late Bob Dunning, a beloved restoration carpenter, community leader and environmentalist.

With just bark as a clue, wood identification is a challenge for most people, says Buck. The cross ties are purposely not labeled, although a tri-fold brochure is available at a nearby kiosk. “It’s difficult, even for those of us who know quite a bit, to identify solely by the bark. When you walk in the woods, you can see the limb structure, foliage, buds. So, it’s a challenge.”

Getting timbers from 16 kinds of trees was a treasure hunt and labor of love. Most of the wood is not available at any lumber yard and some species are uncommon.

“It was fun, but it was a lot of work,” says Buck. “It added very significantly to the time—to search out and harvest individual trees.” Many species were unfamiliar to Buck, who as a timber framer works primarily in pine and hemlock. “I know what wood makes good firewood, and how easy is to split, but I’m not a furniture maker.”

Dunning would have appreciated the bridge’s “wood sampler” aspect, said Buck. “Bob would be tickled. He was a great educator.”

The spirit of the bridge certainly resonates with Alanna Doughty, an educator at Lakes Environmental Association. Doughty says she is “so glad” that the wood is not labeled. She recently showed the bridge to a visitor to town and they enjoyed matching tree identification skills.

“I certainly appreciate the challenge,” she said. “It was really fun."

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This article was reprinted from the spring 2018 issue of Green & Healthy Maine Homes. Subscribe today!