Crews work to set the metal footbridge in place at Perley Canal and Jewett Brook behind Church Street on Thursday morning. (Karen Bobotas/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

LACONIA — It just got a little easier to stroll on the downtown Riverwalk.

Thursday morning, a huge crane swung a 20,000-pound footbridge into place behind Laconia Spa, spanning the Perley Canal inlet and connecting a portion of the Riverwalk to Church Street.

This replaces an old footbridge that had fallen into disrepair.

Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunleavy said the old bridge was chained off and closed 15 years ago.

“People could walk around it, but they were walking on private property,” he said. “This new bridge will not only help with public access, but it’s also more encouraging of recreational use.

“This is a nice place to walk when you are on a lunch break. This is an amenity that adds to the neighboring businesses. It’s an extension of the Riverwalk.”

The $86,000 prefabricated steel truss bridge, built in Alabama, is part of a $1 million project begun three years ago to complete several portions of the Riverwalk, which takes pedestrians along a section of the Winnipesaukee River that once was the city’s industrial heart.

A federal grant of more than $500,000 was matched with money from the Downtown Tax Increment Financing fund.

Dunleavy said that by this spring there will be a little over a mile of Riverwalk completed in the downtown area, half on the north side of the river and half on the south side.

The Riverwalk extends on the north side of the river from the Church Street bridge to Water Street. The Riverwalk extends on the south side of the river essentially from the Church Street bridge to behind Walgreens.

Future segments are possible from Walgreens to Fair Street and from Church Street to the WOW Trail at Messer Street.

John Keith, a superintendent with Busby Construction, said the crane handled the bridge job with no problem. The bridge arrived on a flatbed truck.

“They swung it over, put it in place, hit the drill holes and now they will just have to put in some bolting,” Keith said.

The bridge will not be painted.

“If it was painted, five or 10 years down the road it would have to be sandblasted and painted again and we’d have to set up a containment area,” Keith said.

There are five properties on the National Historic Register in and around the Riverwalk.

The Busiel Mill, built in 1853, and the Belknap Mill, built in 1823, used the river to power hosiery factories. The other three properties on the register are the John W. Busiel House, Laconia Public Library and the Evangelical Baptist Church.

On the Riverwalk is Avery Dam, first built out of wood in 1791 and replaced by a concrete structure in 1949. It was built to control water that was used to power local mills.

Some of the old mill buildings along the river were removed in 1969. In the 1990s, Rotary Riverside Park was created in the open area.

Nearby, Stewart Park, dedicated in 1973, was once the site of stores and factories, including the Gilford Mercantile and Manufacturing Company.

On the Web:

Laconia River Tour _

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