The Chester River Bridge

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We often cross the Chester River Bridge several times a day, appreciating the view of the river as we go but not really thinking much about the bridge itself.  Yet this bridge is a lifeline, a vital link connecting Chestertown and Kent County to Queen Anne’s County and the rest of Maryland.

The bridge’s importance came into focus not so long ago when The State Highway Administration (SHA) announced that the bridge would be closed for inspection, maintenance, and painting for four to six weeks in the summer of 2016.  In the summer?  Tourist season?  Unthinkable!

The proposal met with opposition from the entire local community, which cited the disruption to businesses, access to the hospital and other facets of local life. Traffic between Queen Anne’s and Kent counties would have been required to cross either at Crumpton or Millington, a rather long detour for many who live just across the bridge from Chestertown, who can often see Chestertown from their own yards .  What was normally a quick, five-minute drive from Kingstown to the grocery store in Chestertown would suddenly be a 30-minute, 15-mile drive down to Crumpton, across the bridge there, then back up to Chestertown.  Then reverse it for another 30-minute, 15-mile drive back home.  Given that choice, Chester Harbor residents and others on the QA side of the river might decide it was easier to drive 20 minutes to Centreville for groceries. Chestertown might never regain their business.

However, those who live on one side of the Chester River but work on the other would have no alternative.  They in their cars would have to schlep through Crumpton and over that bridge every day.  Both ways.

Emergency workers worried about quick access to the hospital for residents on the other side of the bridge.  Could heart attack or accident victims get there in time?  And what about fires?  Could firetrucks get to the scene in time?  The Chester River Bridge was not just scenic; it was essential.

Eventually, a task force of residents, business owners and government officials from both counties hammered out a plan requiring closure of the bridge only at night for the necessary work and in the fall after the summer season. The agreement left the bridge open for the town’s Harry Potter festival and Downrigging weekend, both of which bring significant numbers of tourists – and revenue! – to town.

The maintenance work and painting was completed in the fall of 2016, and the SHA gave the bridge a clean bill of health, stating that the paint was expected to last another 20 to 25 years. And in fact, the older bridge it replaced had lasted more than a century.  (Bayly La Palme, in a presentation at the Historical Society of Kent County in November last year, gave a fascinating overview of the Chester River crossings – of which the current bridge is the third. Copies of her article “The Old Chester River Bridge” are available from the Historical Society.)

But that completion of the maintenance just over a year ago didn’t end the controversies about the span. As long ago as the 1960s, residents proposed the need for a second bridge to take heavy truck traffic around rather than through Chestertown.  A second bridge would also serve as a backup, an alternate route whenever there might be problems or closures of the other bridge. With an estimated 17,000 vehicles crossing the bridge daily, the congestion on local streets can be considerable, especially on Rt 213 – Maple and Washington Avenues.  The SHA now prefers the word “boulevard” to “bypass” but the function is the same.  Many residents blame the vibration of heavy trucks for damage to historic homes along the main routes through town. The Kent County Commissioners have regularly included a second Chester River bridge in their annual list of infrastructure priorities presented to the state for some 25 years.

The SHA, between 2007 and 2010, conducted a study for a second bridge over the Chester River at Chestertown. In the process, it looked at several options for the location, including a bridge entering Chestertown at the foot of High Street – an idea instantly rejected by residents as making the existing problems even worse. The route eventually identified as best ran east of town, running from the vicinity of Chester Harbor on the QA side to a route behind the property currently owned by KRM and being used for the new Dixon Valve warehouse. It would have connected to route 213 in the vicinity of Worton road.

That proposal met with strong opposition from Chester Harbor residents, who objected to a major road and bridge being built in close proximity to their quiet residential subdivision. Perhaps more important, from SHA’s point of view, was the multimillion-dollar cost of such a project, especially as it was in one of the less populous areas of the state. And while a second bridge across the Chester is high on Kent County’s priority list, Queen Anne’s is much more interested in the heavily-traveled Route 50 corridor between the Bay Bridge and Ocean City.

Recently, a Spy reader raised the question of the bridge’s condition in an email, writing, ” I understand that the Chester River Bridge was built in 1929 and was presumably sized for vehicles at that time. I was again startled driving across it on Friday to see a large semi-trailer loaded with pallets coming the other way.  God only knows how much it weighed.  I looked to see if there are any weight limits on the Chester River sign and there are none.  I do not know about you but I find that surprising because I frequently see less essential bridges with size limits.  Why is there no size limit on the Chester River Bridge? Why can’t the large trucks simply be routed up 544 to 301 and then down?”

The Spy checked and discovered that, in fact, according to the SHA website, there is no weight limit for the bridge – or, for that matter, on the other two state-maintained bridges in Kent County, one in Georgetown and the other in Crumpton.

Given the age of the bridge, it seems rather surprising that there is no weight limit. The question arises, has the bridge gone beyond its normal life expectancy?  The SHA’s 2010 study rated the bridge as “functionally obsolete,” though it also found that the bridge is “NOT structurally deficient.”

The study found that “The bridge across the Chester River has an ADT [Average Daily Traffic] of approximately 17,000 vehicles per day with about 10% of the vehicles being trucks or buses. Most of the trucks are classified as light or medium. The light and medium trucks are 7.5% of the total traffic. The average daily traffic volumes along High Street range from 2,000 vehicles per day south of Cross St. to approximately 11,600 vehicles per day between MD 291 and MD 514.”
The study continued by forecasting that if no second bridge is built by 2030 “…traffic volumes are anticipated to increase to approximately 9,000 to 28,600 vehicles per day along MD 213 with the highest volumes being south of the MD 291 intersection. The traffic volume across the Chester River Bridge is expected to grow to approximately 26,000 vehicles per day [by 2030].”

The complete 2010 SHA study is online here.

It has also been suggested that improvements on Route 301 now underway in Delaware may lead to much of the truck traffic now using Route 213 shifting to that route, which could potentially eliminate the need for the “boulevard.”

But that is only a possibility. There are still many questions about the current bridge and the need/prospects for a second bridge.  What does the state’s pronouncement of the bridge being “functionally obsolete” mean in practical terms?

The last study was completed in 2010; is a new study in order?

Hopefully, the various issues concerning the current “functionally obsolete” but “NOT structurally deficient” Chester River bridge will continue to be explored.  However, the towns and counties affected can argue and lobby all they want, but  the decision will ultimately be made at the state level. The state is not averse to spending money on local infrastructure — the roundabout at the top of High Street in Chestertown is a recent example. But realistically, the financial constraints and a lack of agreement on a location mean that a second Chestertown bridge with accompanying bypass, no matter how much they are needed, are unlikely to be in the cards in the foreseeable future.

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Community Garden Meeting Jan. 24

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Would you like to start a garden but don’t have the space to do it? A community garden just might be the answer to your dreams — and there’s one starting up near you!

The seed catalogues have been delivered. Memories of past weed and pest problems have faded. And even though we are in a deep freeze, it’s time to plan your garden! This year, Pam and John Vogel will open up their farm on Round Top Road for a community garden. Pam has been gardening for years and shares a lot of her produce with neighbors and at a local food bank. She is a believer in having a diverse selection of flowers and vegetables in order to attract many types of beneficial bugs and birds. Bird houses are all around their 15-acre property, and they even have a bat house on their barn. She also loves to seed save the heirloom varieties she grows. John grows hops, beans, peanuts, and tends their 6 bee hives.

Their vision is that area residents will have access to fertile and sunny ground to plant flowers and vegetables. John planted a cover crop of clover a large space and will till it in the early spring so Gardeners can start their early cool weather seeds by mid-March. Gardeners must be willing to use organic practices. There will be straw and composted manure available. A limited amount of tools will be available to share as well.

There will be a planning meeting on January 24th at 7 p.m. at 218 Round Top Road. A seed swap will happen on February 21st at 7 p.m. as well. You can get more information through Meetup.com under the Chestertown Organic Gardeners and Farmers. Or contact Pam by email at pam.vogel123@gmail.com

 

First Friday: Artists’ Gallery Spotlight on Linda Hall

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“Jug of Sunflowers”, watercolor by Linda Hall

On First Friday, The Artists’ Gallery would like to invite everyone to celebrate the new year with them!  Along with their well wishes, the partners of The Artists’ Gallery are offering a discount of 15% off each of their original works of art during the first two weeks of January.  The partners of the gallery are Bonnie Foster Howell, Sally Clark, Nancy R. Thomas, Barbara Zuehlke and Evie Baskin.  For more information about the partners and the work that they do, please see the gallery website.

In addition, The Artists’ Gallery will extend a discount of 15% on paintings by Linda Hall.  Based in Betterton, Linda Hall’s work in watercolor is well known on the Eastern Shore and beyond.  She has participated in numerous juried art shows, both nationally and internationally, winning over fifty awards.  Linda is a signature member of the Baltimore Watercolor Society, Pennsylvania Watercolor Society and the Northeast Watercolor society and an exhibitor with The Artists’ Gallery, and a member of River Arts and the Working Artists Forum in Easton.

A reception for the public will be held at The Artists’ Gallery on January 5, 2018, from 5-8 pm.  Located at 239 High Street in Chestertown, The Artists’ Gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10-5 and on Sundays from 12:30 to 4:30.

“Getting Dinner”, watercolor Barbara Zuehlke

“Fringed Edge”, oil by Bonnie Howell

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“Koi Fish Frolicking”, mixed media by Sally Clark

 

Country Road”, oil by Nancy R. Thomas

“Good Friends”, oil by Evie Baskin

Grants in Action: The Ladies of Nia and Women & Girls Fund Prepare Young Girls for Real World

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While the accomplishments of the BAAM program in Talbot County has become well known for its mentoring programs for young boys, it was comforting for the Spy to learn the other day that there was a Mid-Shore equivalent just for girls, thanks in part due to the sponsorship of the Women & Girls Fund.

Nine years ago, six young women took a “girls trip” to reunite with childhood friendships from Lockerman Middle School in Denton many years after they had graduated from college and had started professional careers. As Malica Dunnock, one of the ringleaders of the group recounted in her interview with Spy, every woman on that trip had an extraordinary sense of being blessed to find a way to higher education and all the promises that it brings to young people. And like many who have had good future like this, the ladies quickly moved on to talk about ways to help a new generation of girls have that same experience

That was when this special friendship circle formed of The Ladies of Nia, which borrows the African term for “purpose” in the organization’s title, which has been working with dozens of girls growing up in and around Denton to find a path forward to the same opportunities as the founders.

The Spy talked to both Malica and Alice Ryan, the founder of the Women & Girls Fund, about The Ladies of Nia, their young students, and their special partnership.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about the Women & Girls Fund or to help support its work please go here 

Unitarians Contemplate the Meaning of “Namaste”

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Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River, Church in Chestertown

On Sunday, Dec 31, 10 a.m., Dr. John Turner will give a sermon titled “Namaste” for the Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River, 914 Gateway Dr., ChestertownJohn explains, “‘Namaste’ is the traditional greeting all over India. Although it really doesn’t translate into English, I prefer to think of it as saying, ‘The divine within me smiles upon the divine within you.’ I believe this fits the form of a blessing and that it can truly challenge how we think about others and about ourselves. And maybe give us a boost into the New Year.”
Religious exploration for youngsters and childcare for infants and toddlers will be available during the service. All are Welcome!

Brevities: Driving in Kent County Before the Solstice

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Photo by Spy Agent 7 — 00 Section

Shelley and I drove north the morning of the day before the shortest day. We rolled through Kent County, commenting on its agreeable flatness, and the winter crops turning the brown fields green. We watched the sunrise orange through the trees, flickering by as it developed its full size. It rose through a gap at the horizon and colored the rest of the heavily clouded sky with a pearl gray.

Shelley first noticed the dark lines low on the horizon. As we approached, it became clear it was thousands and thousands of geese in plumps of a couple hundred. As we got nearer, they appeared to be more overhead, and we could easily see the white bodies and black wing tips of snow geese in their asymmetric vees – none on the ground, all in the air.

The line of geese stretched for miles to the right and left, flickering randomly as the wings rose and fell. An occasional single goose or three or four of them were flying against the flow in search of friends or cousins.

We had to stop for a moment for road construction, and when we rolled the window down, we heard them honking in their hundreds, directly overhead, white against the low gray sky.

Then­ we and the geese went our way.

By Ed Minch

 

 

Estate of Rev. William L. English Donates $892,000 to Chesapeake College for Nursing Scholarships

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Rev. William L. English, Episcopal priest from Dorchester County

Wye Mills, Maryland – The Chesapeake College Foundation has received the largest planned gift in its history from the estate of Rev. William L. English, an Episcopal priest from Dorchester County.

As stipulated by the estate, an $892,000 endowment has been established to fund W.L. English Nursing Scholarships for Chesapeake students.  Preference is given to Dorchester County residents pursuing a nursing degree.

“We are honored to receive this extraordinary gift that makes it possible for students to attend Chesapeake College, earn a degree and pursue a rewarding career in nursing,” said Lucie Hughes, the college’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Executive Director of the school’s foundation.  “As one who ministered to others, Father English understood the power of compassionate care and appreciated the collaborative education and training provided by Chesapeake College and Shore Health to bring along our next generation of nursing professionals.”

Rev. English was a patient at the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Dorchester where the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nursing team treated him on several occasions in 2015.

According to Pat and Richard Gauen, close friends from East New Market, he often spoke of the excellent nursing care provided during those hospital stays.

“He said they treated him like a king, but they didn’t know he was going to make this donation,” Pat said.  I never heard him complain that he received bad care in the hospital…not one time.”

Bill Shertenlieb, a registered nurse from Cambridge and graduate of the Chesapeake College nursing program, was one of Rev. English’s regular ICU caregivers.

“He was very easy to take care of and had the ability to bring out creativity and kindness in the care you delivered,” Schertenlieb said. “He made you happy to be a nurse.”

Nursing is a family profession in the Shertenlieb household. His wife Wendy also graduated from the Chesapeake program and became a nurse in 2013. While she was in school and caring for their children, Bill worked three nursing jobs to support the family.

“Father English and I discussed how hard it was, but I didn’t have the slightest clue about the donation,” he said. “I was stunned. Sometimes you get surprises like this…you don’t always know whose day you’ve made.”

Shertenlieb is now a critical care transport nurse with Shore Health Maryland Express Care. Wendy works for Coastal Hospice in Dorchester County.

Nursing care is a critical need in the Mid-Shore region according to Jon Longest, Chesapeake College Health Professions Chair.

“We are in the midst of a significant nursing shortage in the United States that is even more pronounced in rural areas like the Eastern Shore,” Longest said.  “The English scholarship makes a nursing career more accessible to young adults and even older students who are making a career change or looking to advance within the profession.”

Hughes said the number of annual awards given by the English scholarship fund will depend on need and other financial aid students receive. Initial awards range from $350 to $2,000.  She estimates that as many as 25 students a year could receive grants in the future.

Students interested in the nursing scholarships should complete Chesapeake’s general scholarship application and a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Both are accessible at www.chesapeake.edu/financial-aid.

(L to R) Nurse Bill Shertenlieb with Pat and Richard Gauen outside St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Father English’s former church in East New Market

Donors interested in discussing a planned gift with the college can contact Hughes at 410-827-5879. Online donations can be made at www.chesapeake.edu/chesapeake-college-foundation.

Rev. English was born at Dorchester General Hospital in 1936 and graduated from Cambridge High School in 1954. He was ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1965 by the Bishop of Easton and from 1965-1966, he was the rector for three Mid-Shore parishes:  St. Stephen’s, East New Market; St. Andrew’s, Hurlock; and the Chapel of the Epiphany, Preston.

Following 32 years of ministry on Staten Island in New York City, he retired to Cambridge where he lived in his childhood home on Radiance Drive until his death in 2015.

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UUs Celebrate “Eve of the Eve” – Sat. Dec. 23

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Join the Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River, 914 Gateway Dr., Chestertown, on Saturday, December 23 at 7 p.m. for a traditional evening of carols and story in our annual “Eve of the Eve” service.

Rev. Sue Browning will lead us as we take time to pause and sense the moment “just before” and the wonder of new life.

All are welcome! Please call 410-778-3440 or visit the website for more information.

Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River, Chestertown, church building

Community Sing-Along Fills Park With Joy

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Fountain Park was full of smiling faces and singing voices Sunday, Dec. 16 as the Chester Valley Ministers’ Association presented a sing-along. Christmas Carols and Holiday songs were the order of the day.

The Rev. James Van de Wal stands at the podium as members of sponsoring groups lead the singing

The Rev. James Van de Wal, president of the CVMA, acted as master of ceremonies. Pianist Phil Dutton provided accompaniment, and representatives of sponsoring organizations came to the stage to lead singing. Sponsors included The Chestertown Spy, The Peoples Bank, Kent County Arts Council, Tidewater Trader, The Kent County News, WCTR Radio, Kent Printing, the Town of Chestertown and JBK Hardware.

While there was a touch of snow still on the ground from Friday, the weather was comfortably warm. The organizers provided colorful booklets with words and music to songs. In addition to Christmas favorites, the book included songs for Hannukah and Kwanza.

Van de Wal, in a letter of thanks to the Chestertown Spy, said the CVMA received donations at the event and additional pledges sufficient to cover expenses and to make a generous addition to the organization’s Good Neighbor Fund, which provides one-time payments to residents in need of help with rent, bills, and other emergency financial assistance.

Caroling around the fountain

Cantor Gary Schiff leads the crowd in “I Have a Little, Dreidel,” a Hanukkah song.