I’ve just returned from my family’s annual pilgrimage to Sunset Beach, a trip that we’ve been making since 1969. And the thought just occurred to me that I may have crossed for the last time the floating drawbridge that connects the barrier island to the mainland.
The bridge is an iconic structure – one that has graced the fronts of postcards for decades (strangely we don’t seem to have a copy in our postcard collections). It’s even been featured on the cover of a novel.
A floating bridge has linked Sunset Beach to the mainland since at least the mid-1950s. The current one-way bridge was put in place in 1961 and it’s said to be the last floating drawbridge on the East Coast. It opens on demand for commercial boat traffic and on the hour for recreational boaters. As a child I, along with my brother and cousin, had the good luck to be walking across the bridge when a boat approached. The bridge keeper agreed to let us stay with him as opened the bridge. He headed down to a water-level room, hopped on to what appeared to be a wheel-less tractor and started the motor. Slowly winches began pulling cables and the mid-section of the bridge slid across the water to create an opening for the boat.
But the days of such simple mechanics are numbered. In the coming months the floating bridge will be taken out of service and beachgoers will no longer need to wait their turn to cross. A new multi-lane bridge will make a high arc over the Intracoastal Waterway, leaving plenty of room for boats to travel underneath. The new structure has been years in the making. There were court battles, environmental impact studies and budget woes. But now the pylons are firmly planted and the roadway mostly paved.
As for the floating draw bridge, its fate seems unclear. One group is hoping to include it as part of a waterfront park overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. But members need to raise more than $3.75 million to bring their dream to fruition.
Farewell old friend. Thanks for all the memories.