Volunteers help erect wooden bridge on new Loudon trail

  • Harold MacLaughlin (center) and Sandy Blanchard (left) work together to move a beam into place across a Loudon brook. Jacob Dawson/ Monitor staff

  • Donald Lilljedahl (left) and Sandy Blanchard (right) secure a cable to the wooden block which eventually will hold the I beams in place to build the bridge. Jacob Dawson—Monitor staff

  • Donald Lilljedahl moves his ATV into a secure place so the team can use the automatic wench on the front to slide the I beams into place. Jacob Dawson—Monitor staff

  • The team of volunteers discusses the best way to move the first I beam across the 24 foot gap over the brook. Jacob Dawson—Monitor staff

  • A parking sign for the trail has a new addition, an “Opening soon” sign Sandy Blanchard hung up reminds guests the trail isn’t open quite yet. Jacob Dawson/ Monitor staff

  • With people on both sides of the brook, they work together carefully to slide the first I beam into just the right spot. Jacob Dawson—Monitor staff

  • Using metal bars to hold the wooden block in place under the beam, the wench slowly slides the beam across the brook. Jacob Dawson—Monitor staff

  • Sandy Blanchard and Donald Lilljedahl attach the pulley to a tree across the brook from where the beams are lying on the ground. Jacob Dawson—Monitor staff

  • In order to complete the trail, this 24 foot gap needs a bridge. On Friday, July 27, a team of volunteers headed by Sandy Blanchard laid down I beams as the next step to building the wooden bridge. Jacob Dawson—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/27/2018 11:29:04 PM

Sandy Blanchard had a dream one night where she was watching people pushing baby strollers and walking dogs up Route 106 in Loudon.

“I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. Wouldn’t people want to go someplace else if they had a chance?’ ” she asked herself.

The thought led to her goal of creating a hiking trail along Route 106, but after exploring the options, she said it wasn’t viable. Instead, the 66-year-old member of Loudon’s conservation commission and trails subcommittee is organizing a team of volunteers to create a hiking trail on Youngs Hill Road at the Batchelder Town Forest.

Blanchard has been on the commission for four years, but the subcommittee is less than a year old – and so is the trail. Members and volunteers come out to the trail a few times a year to clean it and remove larger items.

Blanchard said the trial has two loops, and about half a mile in there’s a brook that runs through it. On Friday, Blanchard and about 10 volunteers, along with dog Bella, came together to lay I-beams across the brook. Within a month, Blanchard said a wooden bridge will close the gap and complete the trail. 

Blanchard organizes the work through an email list. She said there’s about 30 or 40 people on it, including people from other towns as well as Eagle Scouts.

“Loudon conservation has given us a little bit of money and we’ve gotten donations from a lot of wonderful places,” Blanchard said in regards to how the project was funded. She couldn’t put a dollar amount on it, but said it isn’t costing much.

One of those donors and volunteer on Friday was owner of Harry-O Electrical Corporation in Loudon, Harold MacLaughlin, Jr. MacLaughlin also owns some of the land the trail is on, and worked with the commission to allow public access to the land. He said he doesn’t use the land – he’s just sitting on it for retirement.

MacLaughlin recently built a new office for his business. But when the contractor he hired accidentally designed and ordered material for a southern weather house, MacLaughlin ended up with some extra I-beams.

“They kept sending me the wrong pieces and now here they are,” he said as he pointed at the beams. MacLaughlin estimated the beams weighed several hundred pounds apiece. There were two beams, each 26-feet long, needed to bridge the 24 foot gap. 

Donald Lilljedahl was helping the team with his ATV with an automatic winch attached to it. He’s been a mechanical engineer for almost 30 years. He and Blanchard set up a pulley system that went from the beam, across the brook, through the pulley attached to a tree and then to the winch on the ATV on the same side of the brook as the beam. The angles created a triangle and the right amount of leverage to pull the beams into place.

“Watch out, that beam is going to go flying up in the air,” Lilljedahl yelled to MacLaughlin, who was guiding the first beam into place as it neared the tipping point, inching towards the opposite riverbank. 

The winch made short work of the I-beams. Others were waiting on the other side of the brook with metal bars to help slide the beam into place. One volunteer walked back across the unsecured beam to attach chains to the second beam.

With both beams in place, the only thing left to do for the day was to secure them to wooden blocks on the side of bank, under the beam, and run cable through a metal stake hammered at least two feet into the ground.

With the I-beams laid, Blanchard said the next step is to actually lay the cross pieces and complete the bridge. She expects this work to be completed within a month.

“I’d say the hardest thing is that we’re all volunteers, and we’re all working together,” Blanchard said. “We’re doing something new that we’re not used to doing. You have to remember that you’re a volunteer and whatever you can get accomplished is better than not doing anything.”

Blanchard said the trail will be open to hiking and possibly mountain biking. No motorized vehicles or horses will be allowed.

“This isn’t a good horse trail because there’s a couple places where there’s a lot of rocks that are close together and a horse could get injured on it,” she said.

Blanchard placed a sign on the larger white one marking the parking area. It reads “Opening soon.” She’s asking people to stay off the trail until all the work is completed.

(Jacob Dawson can be reached at 272-6414 ext. 8325, jdawson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @jaked156.)

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