10262021 Keene Sentinel Marlow Bridge Project

From left, Jessica Mack of the Marlow Parks and Recreation Department and her daughter Alyssa Mack, 5, pose for a portrait with Jeannie Merwin of Marlow dressed as witches along Route 10 on Friday. The women are part of a fundraising effort to install a plaque on the bridge there, dedicated to those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 health crisis, as well as those who have been lost to it.

MARLOW — Two Octobers ago, dozens of people lined the Route 10 bridge to take in a peculiar sight: a coven of witches and warlocks paddling through Village Pond on kayaks, canoes and paddle boards, framed against a backdrop of fiery fall foliage.

It was the town’s first-ever Witches and Wizards Regatta, organized to raise money for renovations to the historic Jones Hall building on Main Street. Interest in the event turned out to be beyond what organizers Jeannie Merwin and Roxanne MacConnell imagined — with help from the Marlow Parks and Recreation Department and the Friends of Jones Hall, they raised about $1,400 for the construction project, surpassing their $1,000 goal.

“In 2019, we had a very good response. We had a lot of people that participated as witches on the water,” MacConnell said. “… We made a significant amount of money, and people loved it.”

Local anticipation was high for an even bigger event in 2020. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and it was no longer possible. And though organizers hoped to return to the water this fall, after consulting with the selectboard, they’ve chosen to cancel again due to concerns about the virus’ delta variant.

“Since our event was expected to be really big, they felt it was a good idea to cancel it,” Merwin said. “We were heartbroken, but we agreed.”

But they weren’t ready to let the magic fade completely. So to continue the spirit of the event, the organizers have decided to go forward with fundraising for their chosen cause: a memorial bridge dedicated to those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 health crisis, as well as those who have been lost to it.

Organizers decided to raise money for a commemorative plaque to be displayed on the Route 10 bridge “to thank all the health care workers for their bravery and to give love to those who’ve lost loved ones,” Merwin said. “As it turned out, my own father died of COVID in December. So it was already a project near and dear to my heart that became moreso.”

The fundraising goal is $3,500, which will go toward the plaque and several decorative flower boxes to be installed on the bridge, hopefully this spring. The plaque is expected to read, “Thank you to all first responders, healthcare and essential workers, and love to all those who have lost a loved one to COVID.”

As of Friday morning, state health officials knew of 1,543 Granite Staters who’ve died due to COVID-19 — 49 of them residents of Cheshire County — and 131,790 people who’ve tested positive for the virus.

According to Merwin, the campaign has raised about $480 so far. And to encourage donations, those who contribute before Thanksgiving will be entered into a raffle for an autumn-themed gift basket, complete with fall treats, seasonal decorations and more. The winner will be announced on Thanksgiving Day.

As for next year, Merwin and MacConnell are hoping the third try’s the charm for the regatta’s big comeback event.

“We’re very hopeful. It’s just amazing that everyone was so disappointed this year, and I think it was going to be extremely large and a lot more witches,” Merwin said. “So we’re hoping that next year it will happen.”

Donations can be mailed to the town at 167 NH Route 123 in Marlow. Checks should be made out to the Town of Marlow with “COVID Memorial Bridge” as the memo line. The raffle winner will be announced on Thanksgiving, but there is no final deadline to donate.

This article is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

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