‘A Sense of Safety’: Fence Installed at Quechee Gorge

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    Caity Bond, left, talks with Jamie Ferguson, while visiting the Quechee, Vt., Gorge from Amherst, Mass. where they are graduate students at the University of Massachusetts, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. Ferguson said his view of the gorge was not hindered by the fence, installed last month as a suicide deterrent. "If (a suicide) happened once in 1960, then I would say it's not necessary," he said. "If it's a frequent safety hazard, it's a necessary safety precaution." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Visitors to the Quechee Gorge photograph the Ottauquechee River through a newly installed safety fence in Quechee, Vt., Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. The fence, installed last month after being delayed in September, is meant, along with a call box and signs with a crisis help phone number, to deter suicide attempts at the tourist attraction. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/13/2018 12:00:48 AM
Modified: 11/13/2018 9:30:47 AM

Quechee — Most sightseers and nearby business owners say the temporary fence recently installed to prevent suicides at the Quechee Gorge Bridge has not significantly impeded the view that draws thousands to the spot.

The 9-foot-tall, chain-link fence, which was the latest in a series of measures to prevent suicides at the gorge, strikes a balance between improving safety and maintaining the views at the popular attraction, said Molly Hutchins, the store manager of nearby Strafford Saddlery.

“It’s a great thing,” Hutchins said on Monday. “It can help deter people from jumping.”

A nice touch, she said, was the state Agency of Transportation’s idea to cut rectangles in the fence that allow visitors to have an unobstructed view of the gorge and take pictures.

Kip Miller, the longtime owner of Quechee Gorge Gifts and Sportswear, who has expressed opposition to a fence, acknowledged that it “could be worse.”

“They did a nice job,” Miller said on Monday. “It doesn’t look like a prison fence, which is what I was afraid of.”

The fence is scheduled to be replaced in 2022, when a permanent solution will be implemented alongside an extensive bridge renovation. Just what that will look like isn’t clear, but Miller said he hopes to see a net placed below the new bridge and the fence removed.

Washington state resident Ray Steiger, a Warner, N.H., native who had never before visited the gorge, said the fence makes him generally feel safer. There is a gap between the bridge railing and the new fence, so people can still look down and get a feel for the depth below.

“I’d feel a little bit funny without it,” Steiger said. “This gives you a sense of safety — even if you don’t need it.”

Maine residents John and Candy Gass, who formerly lived in Bethel, said they were surprised a fence hadn’t been erected sooner.

“I think it’s a necessary thing,” John Gass on Monday. “It’s a little unfortunate you don’t get an unobstructed view. ... but I don’t see it as a huge negative.”

Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director P.J. Skehan said the feedback he has received about the fence has been positive. He noted, though, that this is the gorge’s slow season, and the fence has only been up for about two weeks.

“It doesn’t seem to impact the tourists’ view of the gorge and their experience here,” Skehan said. “People seem pretty happy with it.”

Not everyone was thrilled with the change, though. It’s common to see similar fences at bridges around the country, but that can prove problematic for a bridge known for its views, said Jeffrey May, of Boston, who has visited the gorge before.

“It changes the whole feeling,” May said.

State Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock, also was lukewarm about the chain-link fence option from an aesthetics standpoint when she spoke publicly at a meeting in July. She and others pressed Agency of Transportation officials to examine other types of fencing.

“To me, it’s not the perfect solution,” she said on Monday.

Clarkson said she hopes state officials take a long and hard look at what the permanent solution will be. Many states have customized their safety barriers to best fit their particular location, and she hopes Vermont finds a solution that liberates “that glorious view” while preventing suicides.

For David Cooper, whose son, Derek, died by suicide at the gorge in 2011, the fence accomplishes the essential task of making it more difficult to jump over the bridge railing. The gorge has been the site of 14 suicides between 2007 and July of this year.

“We are thrilled that it got this far,” Cooper said of the effort he and his wife have made to prevent suicides at the gorge.

He, too, said the temporary fence was “not ideal.”

“The ideal will happen when the bridge is redone,” he said. “ … The positive is that it won’t be easy to kill yourself at the gorge.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com.

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