The trip from Ellie Mandel’s home in the Village of Chitty Chatty to Lake Deaton Plaza on Friday morning was a relatively short one in terms of distance. But her journey was a memorable one all the same. For the first time, Mandel and her neighbor, Nancy Lane, made the drive in a golf cart. They were among the many residents who utilized the newly opened Chitty Chatty Bridge to cross over State Road 44. The opening marks a major milestone in the vision of linking residents to shopping, amenities and services Villages-wide. “It’s wonderful,” Mandel said. “We’ve been watching the construction and waiting for this day ever since we moved down here.” Mandel was so excited for the occasion, she went for a walk from her home across the bridge as soon as she woke up. “I got to see the sunrise,” she said. “It was beautiful.”
As soon as she got back home, she picked up Lane and her schnauzer/poodle mix, Fenway Bark, to take a joyride over the bridge in the golf cart.
“It’s going to be terrific that we can take the golf cart to go grocery shopping or to the drug store,” Lane said. “We are so lucky that we get to live here.”
The Chitty Chatty Bridge connects to Lake Deaton Plaza, Rohan Regional Recreation Center, Brownwood Paddock Square, the villages of Chitty Chatty and Bradford.
“Residents tell us all the time how much they enjoy the golf cart lifestyle,” said Tracy Morse, vice president of design for The Villages. “Our vision for full connectivity is all about making sure folks can travel by golf cart anywhere they want in the community. We hope this will be one more reason Villagers are proud to call The Villages home.”
A number of bicyclists, joggers and walkers also were out early Friday for an excursion over the bridge.
“We were out for a ride and looked over and said, ‘Hey it looks like it’s open!’ It was pretty cool to see that,” said Jocklyn Smith, of the Village of Amelia, who crossed over the bridge on her bike with a friend.
The two said they were excited for a “new adventure.”
“We’re looking forward to see how far the trails go down here,” Smith said. “It’s wonderful that everything is connected now.”
Laurie Lublin, of the Village of Osceola Hills, jogs in the area six days a week and said she is looking forward to discovering new running routes.
“This is the best,” Lublin said. “It’s great that they put this in. I run out here six days a week. Now I can go all the way through. I’ll need to see where I can get to today.”
Bruce and Judith Schmahl, of the Village of Pinellas, were eager to explore the villages of Chitty Chatty and Bradford, both of which feature recently opened recreation areas and scenic multimodal and pedestrian trails.
“We read in the newspaper that the bridge would be open this morning, so we decided we’d go for a ride and check it out,” Bruce said. “We love driving around our area, and it’s nice to be able to go into new territory. We’re looking forward to seeing everything in the area down here.”
The Chitty Chatty Bridge is one of four major bridges that will connect The Villages north to south.
“It’s often been said you know when you’re in The Villages, and these new bridges are no exception,” Morse said. “You’ll know when you’ve arrived.”
The Brownwood Bridge, located a few miles west of the Chitty Chatty Bridge, will connect to a pond bridge behind the Barnstorm Theater on one side of SR 44 and, on the other side of the highway, to a system of trails and pathways that will lead to the Water Lily Bridge across Florida’s Turnpike.
The Water Lily Bridge will connect residents to the community on the west side of Florida’s Turnpike, landing in the Village of DeLuna near the Water Lily Recreation Center.
A second Turnpike bridge, called the Southern Oaks Bridge, is in approval stages and will connect residents to future amenities east of Marsh Bend Trail and south of Warm Springs Avenue.
“These structures will not only add to the ease of movement throughout The Villages community, but they will continue to be a fun, celebratory sense of arrival and departure for years to come,” said Mike Pape, land planner.
Each of the bridges are constructed of corten steel, which weathers to form a rust-like appearance that eliminates the need for painting. It’s designed to be reminiscent of steel trestle train bridges of a bygone era.
“These elements are symbolic of historic town markers and were often utilized to mark important places,” said Ed Plaster, architect. “These impressive structures will serve as both symbolic and functional gateways.”
The bridges “give us a glimpse of our future,” said state Rep. Brett Hage, R-Oxford, whose District 33 office includes all of The Villages and Sumter County. “It also shows the Morse family’s commitment to Sumter County for the next 20, 25, 30 years.”
Specialty Editor Keith Pearlman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5347, or firstname.lastname@example.org.