It was a day for sunshine and funnel cakes and pageantry, as more than a thousand people gathered Saturday morning for the official opening ceremony.
Tents and pavilions were scattered across the ground of Crown Point fort and in the distance you could see people – many of them wearing historical dress – strolling across the new bridge, which has bike lanes and a pedestrian walkway.
Steven Engelhart heads Adirondack Architectural Heritage. He says losing the old historic bridge three years ago was tough – but he called the new span a triumph.
"I think we did extremely well," he said. "If you combine the design of the new bridge which is absolutely magnificent, it's even more accessible than the old bridge was. It's a huge success."
The main tent Saturday was filled with politicians and dignitaries. But the man of the hour was Ted Zoli, the bridge’s designer, who was introduced this way.
"They call him the designer of the Lake Champlain bridge, but to us he's our hero," declared the master of ceremonies.
Zoli was born in Schroon Lake and grew up in Glens Falls. He’s now one of the world’s most in-demand bridge designers – the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant. State Senator Betty Little says having Zoli at the center of this project was perfect.
"It's really home town, and it's home grown, like we like to say, Made here in the USA. He's so well known and well respected, so it's nice to see someone be that successful, but it's really nice to have him be part of this."
When he took stage Saturday, Zoli told the crowd that this bridge was one example of government and tax dollars doing good work. But he also praised the grassroots effort that led to the fast work of getting the span built and reopened in record time.
"One thing I can tell you that's remarkable about this, this has been the most engaged community, the most engaged region of any project I've been involved with by a factor of ten," Zoli said.
The crisis of this bridge closure was a wake-up call, raising new concerns about the economy in this part of the Champlain Valley, but also reminding communities on both sides of the lake just how intertwined rural Vermont and New York have become.
Lorraine Franklin from Addison Vermont is co-chair of the Lake Champlain Bridge Community, the group that organized the weekend celebration.
"We are together again, we're celebrating that this weekend and let's hope that we are never, ever divorced again," Franklin said.
The last span over Lake Champlain lasted nearly a century, so the weekend dedication of the new bridge felt like a party, but it also felt like a moment in history.