Dela Stoddard-McGrath Vermont makes sign to protect covered bridge.
Dela Stoddard-McGrath was one of many people whose daily commutes were impacted when the Miller’s Run Bridge was knocked out of commission a few months ago.
A food delivery truck driver plowed through the historic covered bridge, badly damaging it and kept on going; but for the video camera of a nearby homeowner, the culprit may never have been caught.
For Dela, a preschooler from Wheelock who gives his age precisely: he is 4 and 3/4, the bridge’s injuries were personal, said his mom, Henekis Stoddard.
Stoddard pays close attention to the sights from his car seat and he loves the wooden bridge, which they cross daily for his rides to and from preschool. They had to use an alternate route during the repair, which took the whole summer to complete, and when asked how he felt when the bridge was damaged, Dela said simply, “bad.”
Dela spoke Friday afternoon while standing on the side of the bridge that reopened recently to traffic. Cars came and went, some too fast, the adults with him observed, as Dela, Lyndon Municipal Administrator Justin Smith and Town Clerk Dawn Dwyer mulled where to put up a warning sign that Dela had made.
He and Sally Stoddard, his grandmother, had visited the town clerk’s office to find out how to get a sign put up to try and slow trucks down at the covered bridge.
The town clerk’s staff advised they visit with Smith, which they did.
“We go over this bridge quite a bit,” said Henekis. “When he heard that it was damaged, he was sad.”
“He wants to make sure no one else makes that same mistake,” Henekis said of Dela’s sign. She said he loves to learn about everything, and is especially interested in rules being followed.
“For quite awhile, he’s paid attention to signs, he’ll tell us when the speed limit changes, he’s very astute in the car. When he heard the bridge was closed, he knew there were signs that said how tall it was. He knows the signs are very important to them and paying attention to them.”
Dela wanted to create a brighter, new sign, to try to get people’s attention, his mother said.
The one thing Dela pointed out was that his sign, handmade, is “not a yard sale sign,” he stressed on Friday.
Henekis said her mother, Dela’s “memah” helped him to navigate how to have his voice heard about his concerns – and it was a very positive outcome.
The process “became more and more formal,” said Sally Stoddard.
Dela is the youngest citizen by far who has advocated for a sign, said Smith. “It was a great experience for all of us. It’s important to have people involved in the community, it doesn’t matter what their age is. This will hopefully set him on a path where he understands how town government works, and that sometimes you’re able to change things, hopefully it will set him up for a positive experience.”
The lesson in democracy and civics saw the pair chat with Smith, who brought a request to post Dela’s handmade, laminated sign to the Lyndon Select Board last week.
The board approved the temporary bridge sign, reported Smith, who had a hammer with him on Friday to put up the sign, which town officials put a sturdy backing on, and tacked to a slim wooden post.
Dela’s sign warns, “Stop! Back up if you’re more than 11’ 9” or 16,000 pounds.” It’s hand-drawn in a young child’s writing, in red, blue, purple, green and neon orange markers.
The bridge was damaged in an accident on May 16, and re-opened last month.
Selectman Dan Daley said of Dela’s handmade sign request on Friday, “I thought it was awesome. I think we all thought it was great this young guy thought it was important to make the sign to help keep people safe. And the reality is (tongue in cheek) that a driver might slow down to read this cute sign who might not pay attention to the regular signs.”