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Monday, Mar 4, 2024


It is rare that we think of Middlebury, both town and college, as a mighty, unified force. It is more common that we equate the area with its New England quaintness, seemingly slowed pace of life and picturesque pastoral beauty. But the opening of the Cross Street Bridge this past Saturday was a show of much more than small town charm.

The celebration, marking the end of a tireless process, offered speeches, music and food, a parade, fireworks fit to rival any Fourth of July pyrotechnics and, most importantly, an opportunity for Middlebury residents, faculty, staff and students to come together in a way very much emblematic of the project itself. As students played with children in Halloween costumes and faculty mingled with fellow residents, it was difficult not to consider the incredible collaboration that occurred on every scale.

Though the project in its current form launched a year and a half ago, a second bridge over Otter Creek had been on the town docket since the 1950s. Continually delayed due to a lack of federal and state funds, it was only through massive community mobilization that the town was able to finance the construction. The town reached out to local contractors, landscape designers and every worker on the project was from the immediate community. And with the support of local businesses, they instituted a local retail tax of one percent on all goods sold in the town of Middlebury proper, extending their web of support to all patrons. This means that whether or not you were aware of it, you too played a crucial role in the funding of this bridge — a portion of every cup of coffee you purchased from Carol’s or light bulb you bought from Ben Franklin went to its construction.

On a larger scale, however, it was the College’s partnership with the town that pulled the project out of economic stagnancy. Following the lead of President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz, the school was able to contribute $9 million, over half, of the project’s $16 million budget. This money, however, like the festivities of this past weekend, represents much more than its face value. It is a recognition of our roots and a vote of confidence in the incredibly important relationship between the town and the College. And we must applaud President Liebowitz for his efforts to sustain it.

We are extraordinarily lucky. While ours is in no way without flaws, few colleges across the country enjoy as amicable and beneficial a relationship with their surrounding communities as the one we have been privileged with for so many years. The welcome we feel in Middlebury’s shops, bars and restaurants, and the ease with which we strike up conversations with locals, is not something to take for granted. It is unique. And it is something that each and every one of us is responsible for continuing to foster.
So, while we are all thrilled by the prospect of a decongested rush hour and the potential for increased local business, our real excitement over the Cross Street Bridge lies in its ability to act as a concrete, visible reminder of the people and relationships responsible for its existence. It is a literal symbol of collaboration. Each time we drive or walk over it, we are prompted to consider the power of a community united. And that is a mighty thing.