Florida bridges can be adventures

Orlando SentinelJune 23, 2014 

In Florida, a bridge can be a rare hill to conquer, an overlook for great views, a place for a social outing or a workout -- and one of the best ways to connect with the state's unique water world.

"We talk about it all the time," said Renata Cherapay, who meets with her mother three times a week on the Max Brewer Bridge in Titusville, about 45 miles east of Orlando. "My dad asks, 'Why do you go?' You get a cool breeze, clean air, you can look at the water and you can talk while you walk."

As they set out on a recent afternoon, her mother, Bobbie Burgamy, added: "It eases your mind."

Bridge trekkers go to experience the outdoors the way it can't be done on a neighborhood sidewalk or park path.

Many adventure bridges have sidewalks protected by steel or concrete barriers, outlooks that extend as small stages over the water and public parking.

The thing about the Brewer, and what a lot of its fans proclaim, is the venue is good day and night, 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. and during warm weather and blustery.

As with perhaps all adventure bridges, Saturday mornings are jammed.

"It's our town's track," said Margaret Thompson of Titusville, who was logging laps with her husband just before sunset recently.

Not unlike the Golden Gate and Brooklyn bridges, Florida's adventure bridges complement the personalities of their settings.

Fitting for Jacksonville's blue-collar roots is its Main Street Bridge, a throwback to the days when riveted steel was the real way to cross Florida waters.

St. Augustine's Bridge of Lions is a museum centerpiece.

Sarasota's Ringling Bridge feels like part of the classic sun, sea and sky of a Florida vacation.

Affluent Fort Lauderdale has its 17th Street Bridge, the state's tallest drawbridge, which opens like car hoods. It can accommodate yachts of lowly millionaires when closed, but it must open occasionally for billionaires' behemoths.

Tampa and Clearwater, as of late last year, can brag about the only high bridge that looks like it can carry cars but is dedicated to recreation and to the burgeoning network of trails in the Tampa Bay area.

In all, about a dozen Florida bridges are in the top tier for adventure. Others include the Melbourne Causeway in Brevard County, Veterans Memorial Bridge in Martin County, Rickenbacker Causeway in Miami, Old Seven Mile Bridge in the Keys and the Albert Gilchrist and Barron Collier bridges in Charlotte County.

All stand out in different ways and are locally famous; trekkers at one bridge are often unaware other bridges offer as much enjoyment.

Most of the state's thousands of bridges have little or no safe room for walking or biking, or otherwise don't encourage recreation, and there is no program to create more adventure-worthy bridges.

"It's case by case," said Bob Crim, manager of the Florida Department of Transportation Production Support Office. "If sidewalks and bike lanes lead up to a bridge, then they'll probably be on the bridge, too."

FDOT also has no online page or printed brochure that showcases the best bridges for recreation.

Among the newest -- and the closest to Central Florida -- is the Brewer Bridge. It was rebuilt and opened in 2011, transformed from a low and inhospitable drawbridge to a span of concrete with an arch apex of more than 70 feet.

It rises from the edge of Titusville, flies over the Indian River and lands at the foot of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which abuts Canaveral National Seashore.

In the most visual way, it is the doorway between two worlds, one of civilization's hustle and bustle and the other of celebrated marsh and migratory birds.

The view from the high bridge, like the scene from other bridges, casts a kindly patina on distant features. Everything comes off as scenic, including Kennedy Space Center's giant box of a building once used to assemble moon rockets.

A few weeks ago, during the hottest part of a weekday afternoon, Rosalio Cenobio of Titusville strode across with purpose. Why? He patted his belly to indicate he wanted to knock off a few pounds.

Another man didn't slow to talk but explained his motivation was: "Maybe more for my mental health than my physical health."

Colorful kites of kite surfers performed aerial pirouettes in the near distance, and business picked up at a restaurant below the bridge at the west end

As the sky gathered for sunset, Cathy Flick and Dolly Hieronimus arrived. The two, well into their retirement years, used to come daily. But Hieronimus, the slacker, started yoga twice a week, so now they trek the Brewer only five days a week.

The payoff from the Brewer, said Flick, is gossip and scenery combine to obscure the exertion. "You don't know it hurts because you are talking," she said.

Mary Hughes showed up, as she often does, to walk and stalk sunsets with her camera. "I've gotten some gorgeous photos," she said.

As the span's lights began intruding into sundown's fading reds, Angela Scully propelled her 2-year-old daughter in a stroller, beaming when asked about the bridge.

"After a long day at work, it's just relief to be here," she said. "This is what Florida is about."

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