Farewell voyage: Queen makes final ‘Pond’ run

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

NAPLES — Like a group of people standing on a mountain peak when Divine word comes down, individuals shared a common euphoric experience with those who rode the Songo River Queen II and those who stood on the shores shouting to passengers by name.

Crowds gat herED at the Causeway Marina to witness the Songo River Queen pass through the Naples’ swing bridge for the last time. On Saturday, the bridge closed to boat traffic but will continue to serve vehicular traffic while a new fixed bridge is constructed.

Hundreds of people partook in the last tour of the Naples’ paddleboat ride to the Songo River Lock via Brandy Pond. After all, this was an excursion that came to an end because, for the Queen, it required passing through a swing bridge that on Saturday stopped operating while a fixed bridge is built.

On the return trip to Brandy Pond, an army of boats was abreast on the water-traveling landmark. As the convoy reached the Causeway Marina, people sat on recreational boats in the slips and stereo speakers emitted the songs Don’t Rock the Boat and Celebration.

Then, all of the marine vessels ceremoniously passed through the Naples Swing Bridge one last time. The Queen, followed by the state game warden, ended the era of this area’s swinging bridge.

On Sept. 17, the swing bridge closed.

Cars and trucks and motorcycles will keep driving over the Naples Swing Bridge — it will be open to road traffic while the new Bay of Naples Bridge is being built, according to Maine Department of Transportation officials.

The Songo River Queen II will never again be taking the route it was on Saturday as the paddleboat proudly crossed Brandy Pond. The journey encompassed the people who boarded the Queen and the folks who stood along the shores of Brandy Pond and Songo River to memorialize this trip.

Dawn Allen, who operates the Causeway Marina with her husband Dan, watched the final opening and closing of the swing bridge. She said the she felt emotional when she realized that it was the last time the bridge would swing open, and the Queen would be on Brandy Pond.

“It hit hard,” Allen said, touching her hand to her heart. “Everyone took it for granted all summer, and now it’s over.”

Laureen Thompson and other members of the Muddy River Sno Seekers Snowmobile Club gathered at the marina to mark the moment with both merriment and sadness.

The Songo River Queen II’s trip to the Lock “is a tourist attraction we all have lost. We just assumed it would always be there,” Thompson said.

Friend Scott Richards referred to the final voyage as a “nostalgic tragedy.”

Club President Bernie Flood said because the Queen was available for tours all season, “People kept telling themselves that they would ride it sometime this summer before it took the last trip to the Lock. And, now the day is here.”

“It’s bittersweet,” said Flood. “It’s nice to be part of history. That’s the cool part — being part of history. But, the town is moving on.”

“You haven’t lost the opportunity to ride it. Long Lake is a beautiful cruise,” said Flood. “Riding the Songo River Queen gives you a different view.”

From their dockside vantage point, everyone agreed that the paddleboat looked packed.

Of the people taking the cruise, the majority were in favor of — or had accepted — the change. Several verbalized disappointment that the swing bridge would not continue to be the less-modern part of Naples.

“It’s an old-fashioned boat, and it has been here for years,” Naples resident Peggy Bennett said.

Bennett, who took her first trip when she was nine years old, felt the mixed melancholy of this last trip to the Lock.

Connie Eldridge, who lives and works in Naples, was part of the “Save the Bridge” group.

“I’m sad that this is the last time. But, this should be the last time,” she said.

Eldridge has fond memories aboard the Queen. She recalled her teen years playing the Pac-Man video game on the lower deck during a school field trip, and five years ago, her mom’s 60th birthday party that turned out to be “so much fun” despite an August evening downpour.

Over the years, three of Eldridge’s children have participated in the environmental education-based cruise to the Lock, which was hosted for local students by Lakes Environmental Association.

Sonny Berman and his wife, Pat, stood on upper deck of the starboard stern. Berman has an 82-year history with Naples, and has been a full-time resident for 25 years.

In 1970, Berman was one of the investors during the construction of the paddleboat replica that friend Frank Gerrish built. (Ten years later, a fire destroyed that first boat.)

In 1981, Berman was onboard the christening cruise for the Songo River Queen II.

In 2011, he made certain he did not miss the boat’s last voyage to the Lock.

“It’s too bad to see this idea go away,” Berman said, as the water level dropped in the Lock into which the Queen had pulled.

Berman remembers the dedication in 1954 of the current swing bridge. The bridge before that was a drawbridge, he said. Berman said he keeps track daily of what is going on with construction on the current bridge and Causeway.

The Bermans were glad to be on the Queen for this cruise. The boat is part of their lives. Every evening, the Queen “sounds its horn as it passes” their home on Long Lake, they said.

People with histories intertwined with the Queen, and those who had promised themselves they would take a trip some summer crowded onto the 93-by-23-foot boat.

Barbara Dolan, who lives in Cornish and owns a business in Sebago, was absolutely delighted that her sister got tickets for this trip.

“My sister is my hero,” Dolan said.

Her sister lives in the Bay of Naples Condominiums overlooking the Long Lake side of the Causeway. Every year, the two women plan to make a trip on the Queen, but it didn’t pan out — until Saturday.

“Yesterday, I saw it in the newspaper, and I was kicking myself for not going this summer,” she said. “My sister called me and said, ‘I’ve got tickets!’ ”

“I thought I was going to miss out, but here I am,” Dolan said.

On the outset of the cruise, a group of four friends stood in the sunshine and fresh air along the lower deck’s railing.

South Casco resident Lynn Bickford was bummed when she heard about the swing bridge closure on the TV news. She was thrilled when her friends called to say they had tickets.

“Did I say psyched? I was more than psyched,” said Bickford, who has been on the Queen twice. The last time was 15 years ago, she admitted.

Ray Hansen — who secured tickets for himself, his wife Sena, and friends, Bickford and Dennis Burke — said he wouldn’t miss this last-ever-trip to the Lock for the world. The Queen was part of his childhood. His mom was best friends with Ester, the wife of boat captain Howard Rogers. Hansen, who was five when the first boat took to the water, recalled riding on the original boat.

“I remember when this was one was built,” he said pointing beneath his feet. “Around that time, Kent Dingley had a big boat called The Proud Mary with big peace signs on the wheel house.”

Hansen predicted he would ride the Queen again, but he wished the swing bridge had a different fate.

“I would have liked to see it stay open,” he said. “The state could have built a new swing bridge. You know, whenever that bridge opened, you didn’t sit in traffic and be mad about it — it was part of Naples. Thankfully, it opened on the even hours. So, we always planned trips through the Causeway closer to the odd hours.”

In the near future, timing the bridge opening will no longer be a problem.

And, trying to find the Queen will be a little easier — it will no longer be in Brandy Pond or at the Lock.

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