Holcomb Farm footbridge washed out

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Bridge displaced by Ida, photo by Jack Lareau

On Sept. 1 and 2, the West Branch of the Salmon Brook had a wild time in West Granby, washing aside the 15-year-old footbridge that provides access to the popular Holcomb Farm west side trails. During the high waters of Tropical Storm Ida, the bridge’s underpinning in the east bank caved into the brook, with the span ending up on the west bank. 

Storm Ida dumped about 5.2 inches of rain at the Holcomb Farm, with varying amounts upstream. The Salmon Brook surged. It grabbed yet another large section of its east bank at the bridge site downhill from the main barns, along with the concrete bridge piers. In the years since this bridge was built on safe moorings, the stream bed has marched eastward incrementally, eroding the bank and the area around the piers. 

The span now lies on the west bank surprisingly intact. It appears from photos and accounts of observers that when the rocky earth around the heavy concrete pier on the east bank washed out, the piling tipped and sank, the bridge pivoted on its west piling, and the sturdy span was swept off. The metal bridge structure may be salvageable, along with much of the wood decking. The access trail from the Holcomb Farm crop field was chewed off into the waters.  

East bank, photo by Jim Szipszky

The setting

The Salmon Brook that bisects the Holcomb Farm is constantly on the move. As late as the mid-1900s, it ran substantially to the west of its current stream bed, quite close to the esker that contains the “Boy Scout Stairs” to the Farm’s west side hiking trails. Simsbury Road residents who once worked on Tudor Holcomb’s farm recall a time when crops were cultivated where the washed-out footbridge recently crossed running water. According to West Simsbury residents, in the region’s infamous 1955 flood, the stream bed jumped far to the east of the esker, close to the sites where bridges were placed in 1999 and 2006.

A bit of bridge history 

West Granby residents recount that, as early as 1972, when siblings Tudor and Laura Holcomb owned the farmland, there was a casual “hunter’s” simple foot-crossing over the brook made up of boards and a cable to grasp. The trees supporting the cables finally washed away in 1989.  

In about 1996 and again in 2006, sturdy footbridges were built west of the main barns, providing ready access to west side trails. As detailed below, both were built under the watch of the nonprofit Friends of Holcomb Farm (previously called the Holcomb Farm Learning Center), which then held a license from the town to the entire 315-acre farm. The town took back control of the farm in about 2012.

The 1999 storm washout and the fix

In 1999 the first bridge was washed to the east bank by flood waters resulting from 6.3 inches of rain dumped by Tropical Storm Floyd on about Sept. 16. The bridge was hoisted back in place using a large construction boom under the oversight of Myron Stack, who was very active in the Holcomb Farm nonprofit. 

The 2005 storm event and replacement bridge 

In October 2005, that bridge again was washed away following torrential rains dropped by a subtropical depression that combined with the remnants of Hurricane Tammy. The replacement bridge over the widened brook was constructed in 2006, a short way upstream of the first crossing point. 

That Friends’ undertaking was funded by a $25,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and by donated services. The project was led by Friends President Al Wilke, Director Bud Murtha, and others. The replacement bridge was engineered, designed and built by Hartland Building and Restoration company, with principal Lowell Kahn donating his oversight time. Piers were donated by Arrow Concrete. Local contractor Charlie Kraiza was contracted to clear and excavate the site.

2014 high waters and ramp realignment

In 2014, the brook moved even further east in floods. High water dramatically undercut the bank that supported the ramps to the bridge. Crews from the Friends of Holcomb Farm and the town combined efforts to pivot the ramps to maintain bridge access.

Accessing trails now

No one knows right now whether the popular footbridge will be rebuilt, or where. Various people and entities are gathering the facts and looking at the options.

Access the west side trails by walking or driving to Broad Hill Road a mile north of Holcomb Farm’s main barns. Try to find a place to park if you drive and walk ¼ mileuphill past the chain gate on the abandoned stretch of the road, entering the trail system via the green trail on your left. Or hike further uphill to enter via the Northwest passage trails. Find a map here: holcombfarm.org/trails/