After this Summer, trundling over a single-lane, wooden-decked bridge on our way to the beach is an experience that we soon may not encounter ever again on our annual travels to the Atlantic Ocean. The Sunset Beach Swing Bridge, the last of its kind, will soon be replaced. Build in 1961, it is said to be the only large-capacity, steel, swing span bridge remaining on the East Coast. The center segment of the Sunset Beach Swing bridge floats on pontoons so that it can be opened to allow the passage of boats. Consequently, the bridge rises and falls with the tides, gently but firmly subjecting human plans to the dictates of nature on a regular basis, as extremes of high and low tides periodically force the bridge to close to traffic for short periods of time.
Some credit the bridge for the unspoiled, village-like atmosphere of the island beach at Sunset, reasoning this compromised access essentially kept it an island for longer by slowing the pace of development over the years, preserving the charm of a North Carolina coastal village. I remember my first visit to Sunset Beach, and the comparative lack of tall buildings crowded along its dunes was an unexpected delight.
I have read that the town of Sunset Beach was due for a new bridge over 20 years ago, but movement on this was slowed enough by the efforts of a group of residents who opposed it so that the funding for the bridge was lost, and Ocean Isle Beach was awarded the new bridge instead. Of course, I don't purport to be an expert on the whole affair, but speaking as a newcomer to Sunset Beach, if winning the new bridge back in the 80's made it possible for that ugly high-rise on Ocean Isle beach to be built, then I am happy that similar progress at Sunset was delayed for so long. Hopefully by now, existing zoning and prevailing good sense will prevent a repeat of the mistakes of the past and spare us the ugly over development that spoils other coastlines.
Anyway, construction began on the new bridge at Sunset Beach in 2008 and is nearing completion, reportedly due to open the summer of 2010. Each time my family slowly drives over the old bridge, we are treated to a good long look at the remarkable progress of the new one - which, like the others at Ocean Isle Beach and Holden Beach, will rise 65 feet above the water.
The summer is ending, and with it may be your last chance to say goodbye to that old wood and steel bridge.